Pro-government forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo have pulled back from territory they took from the M23 rebels in the past week. Civilians in the reoccupied zone are protesting that they wanted the army to stay.
Civilians in Kiwanja, a small town in eastern Congo’s North Kivu province, woke up Sunday to find the army that reoccupied the town two days before had left during the night. Many people were bitterly disappointed.
The army was guarding us well, says this woman, and says the people do not want the M23 rebels back.
Another civilian who also preferred to withhold his identity said an M23 occupation is a worrying prospect.
He says when the M23 soldiers are here, business is paralyzed - and there are killings, forced recruitments and sexual violence. But when the government army is here activities are back to normal.
Kiwanja and the neighboring town of Rutshuru were occupied by the M23 since July last year, but they withdrew from this area last Thursday when fighting broke out between rival M23 factions, led by Sultani Makenga and Bosco Ntaganda.
The area was then occupied by government forces and pro-government militias, including the ethnic-Hutu Nyatura militia and Rwandan-Hutu rebels, the FDLR.
They disappeared Saturday, and the M23 arrived peacefully early Sunday to take up their former positions in the two towns.
The peaceful handover of the area appears to have been arranged between the government and the rebels with international mediation.
That could indicate an agreement between the Makenga faction of the M23 and the government is imminent, in which this faction might agree to join the government army.
Vianney Kazarama is spokesman for the Makenga faction. He told VOA there could be a peaceful solution to the current situation.
He says if there is an agreement to create, with external oversight, what he calls a professional army that would be a good thing, and the M23 would be associated with the process along with the government and external partners.
Senior officers from the other M23 faction led by Bosco Ntaganda declined to be interviewed by VOA. That faction appears to be militarily weaker than Makenga’s group. It is certainly weaker diplomatically as Ntaganda is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of recruiting child soldiers.