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Congo: M23 “Withdraws Troops from Combat”, Seeks Dialogue

Heavy fighting broke out on Monday after the M23 attacked two Congolese army positions near the borders with Uganda and Rwanda and advanced on nearby towns, causing thousands of people to flee into Uganda. 

Democratic Republic of Congo rebel group, M23 declared a unilateral ceasefire on Friday after clashes with the army in the restive eastern region. , its spokesman said in a statement on Friday.

The group said in a statement that it was seeking dialogue with the government and that it had withdrawn its troops from the combat zone in order to avoid new confrontations with the Congolese army.

Congo’s army spokesman and government spokesman could not be reached immediately for comment.

Heavy fighting broke out on Monday after the M23 attacked two Congolese army positions near the borders with Uganda and Rwanda and advanced on nearby towns, causing thousands of people to flee into Uganda.

The M23 seized large swathes of territory during an insurrection in 2012 and 2013, before its fighters were driven out by Congolese and United Nations forces. They have since returned from neighbouring countries to stage attacks.

M23 spokesman Willy Ngoma has previously said that his troops were acting defensively and accused the Congolese army of waging war against them.

The rebels, formed largely by Congolese army deserters, say they are fighting for the rights of Congolese ethnic Tutsi.

Earlier, DR Congo said some Rwandan soldiers were backing the rebels, an allegation denied by Kigali.

M23 rebels captured large parts of North Kivu a decade ago – they were eventually routed and as part of a regional peace deal disarmed and mainly moved into camps in Uganda.

However, in recent months they have been slowly leaving the camps after complaints that the deal was not being honoured.

There have been regional efforts in recent years to have the M23 demobilize, but its leaders have complained about the slow implementation of a peace accord.

Meanwhile hundreds of refugees have started to crossing back to their villages from a Ugandan border town.

On Friday morning, Bunagana was a hive of activities, with people carrying personal belongings and dragging livestock across the border.

They had camped for days in schools and churches on the Ugandan side, while others were hosted by friends and relatives nearby.