North-Kivu: Heavy Fighting Near Sake and Kibumba

North-Kivu, February 12, 2024- The M23 rebel group, along with their allies from the Rwandan army, initiated attacks early in the morning against several positions held by the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC) and the local militia group Wazalendo in the territories of Masisi and Nyiragongo.

Throughout the day, intense battles were reported around the town of Sake, a strategic location the rebels have persistently attempted to capture. Despite these efforts, the Congolese military, supported by Wazalendo fighters, successfully repelled the rebels’ assaults on two occasions, thwarting their attempts to outflank from Malehe to Kimoka.

A source close to the Congolese government revealed that, following an airstrike by the Congolese air force, the rebels dropped a bomb on the Zaïna displacement camp located on the Sake-Kitchanga road around 4 PM, injuring eight civilians and causing widespread panic among the camp’s inhabitants. “Children and pregnant women are among the injured. Nurses are trying to stabilize the wounded before their evacuation to Goma,” a local nurse reported. A civil society member detailed the incident, stating, “A bomb has just fallen in the displacement camp Maman Zaina, several seriously wounded have already been registered and are currently at the Afya health center, where the injured receive first aid before being transported to Goma.”

Residents of Sake reported that the rebels had been trying to take control of the town since 11 AM, reaching as far as Kimoka but were repelled by fighter jets of the army. “They recorded a heavy toll again,” said a local resident.

Further attempts by the M23 and RDF to capture Sake were foiled around 3:30 PM despite the Rwandan army’s use of surface-to-air missiles. The joint forces of the M23 and RDF were not able to enter the town of Sake. Their latest attempt to encircle the area was contained and repelled by the FARDC and Wazalendo youth fighters. According to sources on the ground, M23 and RDF forces were located around Sake, particularly near the antennas and towards Mandimba.

The frequent bombing has led residents to flee from their homes towards the city of Goma, fearing for their safety.

The situation around Sake, the last security barrier before Goma, remains tense, with local sources reporting confusion and fear among the population.

On the Kibumba axis, hostilities ceased by evening. Since midday, rebels have been reported to reinforce their ranks from Kabizo towards Mushababwe, transporting heavy weaponry on stretchers, according to sources from Kabizo.

Laurence Kanyuka, spokesperson for the M23, stated on his X account at 7:30 PM on February 12, 2024, “The coalition forces of the Kinshasa regime continue to bomb densely populated areas in Masisi using heavy artillery; under these circumstances, the M23 is compelled to repel these diabolical forces and neutralize them in order to protect the civilian population and their properties.”

The M23 spokesperson also claimed to a Rwandan media outlet that the M23 had killed three FARDC colonels, destroyed an armored vehicle, and captured significant military equipment. The strategic hills of Kanyamahoro, Nyamushwi, and Kanyabuki were reported to be under M23 control following the day’s fighting in the Kibumba Valley. These claims have yet to be independently verified.