Democratic Republic of Congo's army says handover of Kibumba town near eastern Goma city to regional African force, is meant to distract locals and global community, adding rebels are reinforcing their positions elsewhere.

M23 rebels stand with theirs weapons during a ceremony to mark withdrawal from their positions in the town of Kibumba, in eastern DRC on December 23.
M23 rebels stand with theirs weapons during a ceremony to mark withdrawal from their positions in the town of Kibumba, in eastern DRC on December 23. (AP Archive)

Democratic Republic of Congo's army has called an M23 rebel withdrawal from a strategic town near the eastern city of Goma a "sham", saying the militia is reinforcing its positions elsewhere.

The commander of the East African Community force, Jeff Nyagah, told reporters on Saturday that M23 was due to withdraw to Mount Sabyinyo, which demarcates the border between the DRC, Uganda and Rwanda.

But the DRC's army stated on Saturday that the handover was a "sham" designed to distract Congolese people and the international community.

Clashes with the M23 erupted on Friday afternoon in Virunga National Park, the military said, adding that the rebels had also reinforced several positions with a view to occupying territory west of Goma.

The M23 group has conquered swaths of territory in North Kivu province in recent months and advanced to within a few dozen kilometres of Goma.

Under heavy international pressure to lay down arms, the Tutsi-led rebels took part in a ceremony on Friday to deliver the town of Kibumba to an East African military force recently deployed in eastern DRC.

The rebels had called the move a "goodwill gesture done in the name of peace".

The DRC has repeatedly accused its smaller central African neighbour Rwanda of backing the M23, although the latter denies the charge.

The United States and France, among other Western countries, nevertheless agree with the DRC's assessment.

READ MORE: M23 rebels begin withdrawal from occupied DRC areas

'M23 kidnapped 52 civilians'

Meanwhile, security officer told Anadolu Agency that M23 has kidnapped 52 civilians on Saturday in the Rusekera village in the territory of Rutshuru, located in North Kivu province.

Lieutenant Andrew Ruhaka said the rebels attacked the village, causing residents to flee and others were rounded up.

"The 52 people who were rounded up were forced to board a truck and were driven to an unknown place," he said.

Ruhaka said the M23 rebels seem to be interested in recruiting new fighters since DRC and Ugandan troops began hunting and killing them in the forests in eastern DRC in an operation that started in December 2021.

He said the attack in Rusereka forced residents in neighbouring villages to also flee.

READ MORE: UN eases weapons embargo on DRC, extends peacekeeping force

Genocide in Rwanda 

At the root of the current crisis between Rwanda and DRC is the 1994 genocide.

The carnage began when a plane carrying Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana was shot down, killing the leader, who like most Rwandans was an ethnic Hutu.

The country's minority Tutsis were blamed, and although they denied it, bands of Hutu extremists began killing them, including children, with support from Rwanda's army, police and militias.

Rwanda's current president, Paul Kagame, a Tutsi and former opposition military commander, is widely credited with stopping the genocide, but he has become a polarising figure in recent years, accused of leading an authoritarian government that crushes all dissent.

The genocide killed more than 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus who tried to protect them. Thousands of Hutus fled to neighbouring eastern DRC.

The M23 rebels are largely ethnic Tutsis from DRC who became prominent 10 years ago when their fighters seized Goma.

M23 derived its name from a peace agreement on March 23, 2013 reached with the DRC government and the rebels, who had attacked government troops between 2010 to 2013.

READ MORE: DRC troops, rebels clash as M23 says ready to 'disengage'

Source: TRTWorld and agencies