M23 rebels announce withdrawal from Eastern DR Congo villages

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Rebels from the M23 group have announced their retreat from villages captured in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo following clashes with government troops in the Rutshuru region.

Fighting between the rebels and soldiers flared up Wednesday after several days of calm, and rebels from the March 23 Movement (M23) took control of around a dozen villages in Rutshuru territory in North Kivu province, local sources said.

The M23 took the “decision to withdraw, once more, from its newly-won positions … to allow for its concerns to be addressed through open and fruitful dialogue with the government” of DR Congo, the group said on Sunday.

The M23 “never had the intention to capture areas to run them, our only motivation is the peaceful resolution of the crisis,” it added in a statement.

But it was not confirmed whether the withdrawal from around a dozen villages had taken place.

The M23 also said it intended “to hand over all [soldiers] from the national army captured on the frontline to the International Committee of the Red Cross for proper care”.

The M23 was formed by former members of a Congolese Tutsi armed group that was once supported by Rwanda and Uganda.

Becoming one of the scores of armed groups that roam eastern DR Congo, the M23 briefly seized the city of Goma before being defeated and forced out of the country.

After its defeat, the M23 eventually signed an accord with the government that included provisions for its fighters to reintegrate into civilian society. But the group has again accused the government of reneging on the deal and resumed fighting last year.