DRC: Ugandan forces take control of Bunagana after the departure of the M23

East African regional forces have regained control of Bunagana, a strategic town in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) that had been held by rebels of the Mouvement du 23-Mars (M23) for over nine months, a spokesman for the regional force said on Monday (April 3)

DRC: Ugandan forces take control of Bunagana after the departure of the M23

East African regional forces have regained control of Bunagana, a strategic town in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) that had been held by rebels of the Mouvement du 23-Mars (M23) for over nine months, a spokesman for the regional force said on Monday (April 3).

The Ugandan contingent of the East African Community (EAC) regional force has officially deployed to Bunagana and will establish a strongpoint in the area and give the M23 time to leave, said his spokesman, Captain Kato Ahmad Hassan. "We commend the M23 command for their cooperation with the contingent, for granting us safe passage and for allowing us to occupy Bunagana," he added.

The M23 did not respond to requests for comment on its departure from Bunagana, which was a key demand during several rounds of mediation on the crisis in eastern DRC, where more than 120 armed groups are fighting for land , power, resources and, for some, to protect their community.

The M23 rose to prominence a decade ago when its fighters captured Goma, the largest city in eastern DRC, on the border with Rwanda. It takes its name from a peace agreement concluded on March 23, 2009, which it accuses the Congolese government of not applying.

"An extremely fragile process"

After a decade of dormancy, the M23 resurfaced at the end of 2021 and began to take over territory. Kinshasa accuses Rwanda of supporting the rebellion and powerful voices in the West back this claim, which Kigali strongly denies. Earlier this year, regional heads of state called for an immediate ceasefire for all sides and called for additional troops for the regional force sent to eastern DRC last year. . Ugandan troops will now attempt to secure the gradual withdrawal of the M23 from other rebel-held areas, including Kiwanja and Mabenga.

Bunagana is located just 60 km northeast of Goma, which also serves as a base for international aid organizations and the UN peacekeeping mission Monusco. The town is close to the border with Uganda, making it an important transit point for goods imported into the DRC.

While the pullout is a positive step, it does not mean a lasting resolution to the conflict, according to Trupti Agrawal, senior East Africa analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit. "The withdrawal is a sign of progress in regional mediation efforts, but this is an extremely fragile process," he said.