M23 rebels continued fighting in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, local sources said on Tuesday, the day they were due to begin withdrawing from their positions under a regional plan.
On February 17, East African leaders urged all non-state armed groups to withdraw from territory they occupy in eastern Congo by March 30.
The withdrawal was intended to take place in three stages, with the initial phase to begin on February 28.
But M23 rebels continued advancing in the DRC’s North Kivu province on Tuesday.
Controlling Mweso town
On Monday, the Tutsi-led group seized the town of Mweso, about 100 kilometres west of the provincial capital Goma.
Local civil society leader Alphonse Habimana told AFP on Tuesday that the M23 was in control of the town of 30,000 people.
Heritier Ndangendange, spokesman for the APCLS — one of the militias fighting the M23 — confirmed that rebels had captured Mweso.
Clashes with the M23 continued on Tuesday about 30 west of Goma, a city of over one million people, according to a security official who declined to be named.
M23 fighters also remained in their positions several dozen kilometres north of Goma.
The rebels are close to encircling the city — which is sandwiched between Lake Kivu and the Rwandan border — with three out of four roads leading out of it cut off.
The remaining road, which leads to neighbouring South Kivu province, is in a state of disrepair due to heavy rains last year.
The M23 re-emerged from dormancy in November 2021, accusing the DRC of ignoring a promise to integrate its fighters into the army.
It subsequently won a string of victories over state forces, seizing swathes of territory in North Kivu province and displacing hundreds of thousands of people.
The DRC accuses its smaller neighbour Rwanda of backing the M23, a charge supported by independent UN experts as well as the United States and several other western countries, but denied by Kigali.