More than 20 Congolese soldiers have been killed in an attack by the M23 rebel group on an army position in Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC’s) conflict-wracked east, local sources said.
The attack was launched on Monday night in Nyesisi, North Kivu province near the Virunga National Park, a UNESCO-listed world heritage site home to endangered mountain gorillas.
Clashes were continuing on Wednesday, according to civil society and local government sources.
The armed forces of the DRC, known as the FARDC, did not confirm the toll, nor did aid workers, due to difficulties accessing the scene of the fighting.
Gentil Karabukala, civil society head of Kisigari near Nyesisi, said that 29 soldiers were killed in the attack.
Lieutenant Colonel Muhindo Lwanzo, chief of staff to Rutshuru territory’s administrator, said that one of the slain soldiers was a colonel.
The rebels also suffered casualties, Lwanzo added, without giving a number.
The Kivu Security Tracker (KST), a US-based monitor of violence in the region, tweeted that the M23 killed “at least 26 soldiers including Colonel Ndume, according to several sources and members of the FARDC”.
The M23 is one of more than 120 armed groups which roam eastern DRC – a legacy of regional wars more than two decades ago.
Also known as the March 23 Movement, it is a Congolese Tutsi group that was crushed in 2013 after launching a rebellion.
Since November, the group has been accused of numerous attacks on army positions.
A spokesman for the group, Willy Ngoma, told the AFP news agency that it was “merely retaliating against attacks launched by the FARDC against its positions since October”.
A separate attack was waged on Monday night in the neighbouring Ituri province attributed to the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), believed to be the Central African country’s deadliest militia.
The KST tweeted that “the ADF are suspected” of being behind the attack in Mutueyi which killed at least 11 civilians.
North Kivu and Ituri have been under a “state of siege” since May last year – a measure aimed at speeding the response to armed groups by replacing senior civilian officers with officers from the security forces.
Uganda and the DRC have launched joint military operations against the ADF, with Ugandan forces mounting air and artillery raids against the group’s bases and sending thousands of troops across the border.