The Burundian army has denied accusations that its troops, under the peacekeeping mission in the war-torn province of North Kivu, are fighting alongside the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC) and a militia coalition against the March 23 Movement (M23) rebels.
This denial comes in response to repeated accusations by M23 rebels, made through their President Bertrand Biwimwa and political spokesperson Lawrence Kanyuka, who claimed that Burundian troops violated the East African Community Regional Force (EACRF) peacekeeping mission and instead joined the FARDC and militia coalition under the umbrella of Wazalendo (patriots).
Major Willy Ngoma, the M23 Military spokesperson, released a video on Tuesday, featuring soldiers claiming to be Burundian troops. These soldiers, including Nyandwi Chanyika, Venat Bizimana, Gordione Uwimana, and Classe Ndikumana, explained how they were captured by M23 rebels while fighting alongside FARDC and the militia coalition in Burungu on their way to attack M23 positions in Bwiza, Masisi territory.
Ngoma also alleges that M23 has killed many Burundian troops while supporting the FARDC and the militia coalition. On Wednesday this week, Burundian troops based in Kitchanga, Masisi territory, detonated, forcing the troops to flee. The party responsible for the detonation remains unclear. On Thursday afternoon, Colonel Floribert Biyereke, the spokesperson for the Burundi National Defense Force, released a statement refuting these accusations. Biyereke described the accusations as slanderous assertions that seriously insult the professionalism of Burundian troops.
“The Burundian army emphasizes that these slanderous assertions constitute a serious insult with regard to the professionalism with which its troops carry out their mission wherever they are deployed. The Burundian soldiers have never collaborated with any armed group and never intend to do so. These malicious remarks are considered to have ulterior intentions, “says Colonel Biyereke.
Biyereke issued another statement accusing M23 rebels of blocking the troops from supplying food to their bases in Kitchanga and Mweso in Masisi territory. According to Biyereke, the troops were blocked on October 21 and 30, 2023. He argues that even when overall commanders of the EACRF were contacted to liaise with M23 about the matter, no positive resolution was achieved. He warned that if this situation persists, the Burundian contingent troops are obliged to take necessary measures.
“The command of the Regional Force of the Community was contacted to resolve this issue but was unable to persuade M23. The Burundian contingent, deployed as part of the East African Community Regional Force, is obliged to take necessary measures,” Biyereke stated. M23 is yet to comment on the blocking of Burundian troops transporting food to its bases. However, relations between Burundian troops and M23 rebels have been deteriorating.
The mandate of troops from Uganda, Kenya, Burundi, and South Sudan, deployed in North Kivu province in late 2022, is to reclaim positions previously held by M23 rebels after their defeat of FARDC soldiers and to establish a buffer zone to prevent further clashes between M23 rebels and FARDC soldiers. This is in accordance with resolutions made and approved by the East African Regional Heads of State Conclave held on April 21, 2022, in Nairobi, the Extraordinary Summit of East African Presidents (Bujumbura) on February 4, 2023, and the decisions of the Chief of Defense Forces on February 9, 2023, in Nairobi.
The DR Congo government is vowing not to renew the mandate, accusing EAC-Regional Force troops of not fighting M23 rebels. EAC troops have also faced heavy criticism and protests from a section of locals, activists, and politicians over not launching assaults against M23 rebels. Latest Updates on Fighting: Meanwhile, on Thursday, fighting raged in Kilolirwe and its surroundings, specifically in Kausa and Muyange along the Masisi-Kitshanga road in Masisi territory.
Clashes also occurred in the Rubona and Sisa villages in the Bukombo Groupement, Bwito chiefdom. M23 President Bertrand Bisimwa released a statement accusing FARDC and the militia coalition of using Sukhoi-25 fighter jets and other heavy weapons to bomb their positions. He argued that M23 is defending itself and the population. On Thursday, there was a lull in gunfire in Kibumba and Buhumba, Nyiragongo territory after intense fighting on Wednesday. Each force maintained its position.
In March 2022, M23 rebels led by Bertrand Bisimwa and General Sultan Makenga launched a war against the government. The DR Congo government accuses Rwanda of backing M23, but Rwanda and M23 strongly deny it. The rebels claim to fight against bad leadership in DR Congo based on corruption, xenophobia, and discrimination.