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Rebel Clashes Flare in East DR Congo Despite Pullout Plan

FILE - M23 rebels stand with theirs weapons in the town of Kibumba, in the eastern of Democratic Republic of Congo, Dec. 23, 2022.

M23 rebels continued fighting in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, local sources said on Tuesday, the day they were supposed 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.

On Monday, the Tutsi-led group seized the town of Mweso, about 100 kilometers 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 rebels had captured Mweso.

Clashes with the M23 continued Tuesday about 30 kilometers west of Goma, a city of more than 1 million people, according to a security official who declined to be named.

M23 fighters also remained in their positions several dozen kilometers north of Goma.

The rebels are close to encircling the city, which is sandwiched between Lake Kivu and the Rwandan border, with three of the four roads leading out of it cut off.

The remaining road, which leads to neighboring South Kivu province, is in a state of disrepair because of heavy rain last year.

The M23 reemerged 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 swaths of territory in North Kivu province and displacing hundreds of thousands of people.

The DRC accuses its smaller neighbor Rwanda of backing the M23, a charge supported by independent U.N. experts as well as the United States and several other western countries but denied by Kigali.