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Kanyabayonga Falls to M23 Rebels: Strategic Gain in Eastern DRC

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Ayize claire

Jun 29, 2024

Strategic town's capture by M23 rebels intensifies conflict, threatens further advances, and exacerbates humanitarian crisis

M23 rebel chief Makenga on right in Virunga highlands

In a significant turn of events in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the strategic town of Kanyabayonga has fallen to M23 rebels. Located approximately 100 kilometers north of Goma, this town's capture follows intense fighting on June 28 between the M23 rebels and the Congolese army, supported by local armed groups. The Rwandan-backed rebels, armed with heavy weapons, entered Kanyabayonga late in the evening after the Congolese forces and their allies withdrew. The battle resulted in at least two civilian deaths and five injuries.

The fall of Kanyabayonga is particularly significant as it was the last major defensive position in the northern part of North Kivu province. This development paves the way for the rebels to advance towards other key cities in the region, including Butembo and Beni. The strategic importance of Kanyabayonga, a town of over 60,000 inhabitants, lies in its facilitation of rebel mobility, enabling them to move more freely to other critical areas.

This capture comes shortly after a visit from Prime Minister Judith Suminwa and on the eve of President Felix Tshisekedi’s address to the nation on Independence Day. Residents have confirmed the presence of M23 fighters in the town, with civil society in the Lubero area corroborating these reports.

The M23 rebels' advance now threatens the city of Kayina, home to about 30,000 people, and potentially Lubero-centre, before possibly targeting Butembo, a city with a population of approximately one million. The journey from Kanyabayonga to Butembo takes only five hours by motorbike, highlighting the rebels' enhanced mobility.

The humanitarian situation in the region has become increasingly dire.

The conflict has led to a surge in displaced persons from areas such as Rutshuru, Masisi, and Walikale. These displaced individuals are either being hosted by local families or are sheltering in schools and public buildings. The crisis has reached a point where even humanitarian organizations are struggling to provide aid.

For instance, the International Committee of the Red Cross halted food aid distribution to displaced people along the Kanyabayonga-Burangiza and Bulindi axis in the Bwito-Rutshuru chiefdom at the end of May due to the deteriorating conditions.

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