In the early hours of February 12, 2024, the North Kivu region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) witnessed a significant escalation in military movements, signaling an imminent offensive. According to local sources and civil society representatives from the Masisi territory, there has been a notable deployment of the March 23 Movement (M23) rebels and Rwandan Defence Forces (RDF) aimed at launching an offensive on the town of Sake and advancing towards Bweremana and Minova.
Residents and members of local civil society have reported a substantial increase in military logistics and personnel moving from Kitshanga towards Sake. Eyewitnesses from Kitshanga described seeing a convoy that included an armored vehicle, two jeeps filled with soldiers, and a bulldozer heading towards Sake. Additionally, on the afternoon of Sunday, February 11, two trucks loaded with soldiers were observed moving directly from Rutshuru through Kitshanga towards Sake. The movement suggests a strategic push by M23 to launch a significant offensive covering Sake, Bweremana, Kirotche, and Minova between Monday and Tuesday.
Further reports from the same evening confirmed the movements, with six Fuso trucks filled with M23 and Ugandan elements seen leaving Kitshanga towards Kilolirwe. This mobilization raises concerns about potential attacks on the Kingi front or along the Sake-Kitshanga and Sake-Minova axes, and possibly even towards Goma.
The Wazalendo youth resistance group, which also shared photographs of heavy weaponry, raised alarms over Uganda and Rwanda deploying anti-aircraft systems on Congolese soil. Jules Mulumba, a spokesperson for the Wazalendo, highlighted this as a significant violation of the DRC’s national sovereignty, allegedly supported by “imperialists.”
Despite a recent ceasefire request by the rebels following a failed attempt to capture Sake, where military analysts suggested the rebellion suffered considerable losses and needed to regroup, intense fighting resumed early on February 12. The M23 and RDF forces were reported to be stationed on the hills overlooking Sake, engaging in heavy combat with the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC) along the Kobokobo-Lushangi route and near Malehe, roughly 8km from Sake.
Lt Col NDJIKE Guillaume, spokesperson for the FARDC in North Kivu, confirmed the deployment of commandos and military equipment to the region, emphasizing the commitment to secure the population and reclaim territory. M23’s spokesperson, Lawrence Kanyuka, reported that coalition forces launched attacks on populated areas around Kibumba and Sake early in the morning, accusing the FARDC of widespread attacks on civilians. Willy Ngoma, another M23 spokesperson, echoed these claims, suggesting that government forces were in retreat after suffering losses.
These developments underscore the complex dynamics of conflict in Eastern DRC, where accusations of civilian attacks and human rights violations are rampant. The M23, often accused of such violations and reportedly supported by Rwanda, continues to assert its role as a protector in its communications, despite widespread international condemnation.