- M23 rebels say they want peace but will fight to defend their territory.
- They accuse Felix President Tshisekedi of causing chaos to avoid elections next year.
- M23 claim to be victims of fake news.
March 23 Movement (M23) rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have accused President Felix Tshisekedi of attempting to delay next year's elections by fanning divisions in the country, creating fertile grounds for conflict.
M23 took over the towns of Tanda, Mukarange, and Muhambira in the eastern DRC and claim to be protecting the communities.
But on Tuesday, government forces opened fire on the rebel groups stationed in the three areas.
After the attack, in a strongly worded statement, the rebels said they would "repeal enemy's [government] attacks in a way to protect the civilian population and their goods".
According to Human Rights Watch, the fighting between Congolese troops and M23 had forced nearly 200 000 people to flee their homes so far this year.
Both the government and rebels have been found to be committing widespread violence, unlawful killings, and other grave abuses by humanitarian aid organisations in the eastern part of the country.
In a statement, M23's political spokesperson Lawrence Kanyuka said besides defending its territory, the group was interested in a peaceful resolution to the current conflict.
"The M23 Movement reiterates its undertaken commitment to direct dialogue with the Congolese government for the peaceful resolution of the conflict," he added.
However, the rebels said they felt Tshisekedi was not acting in good faith but using the conflict in the eastern part of the country as a way of holding on to power in a chaotic environment.
The rebels claimed a volatile situation in the region would be enough for Tshisekedi to call off next year's general elections, citing insecurity in the country.
"Its [the government] strategy of creating and maintaining conflicts to cause tremendous chaos in the country which it intends to use to maintain itself in power," Kanyuka said.
M23 claimed to be rebels with a cause and said the government was forcing the press to portray it in a bad light.
"Tshisekedi's government is inventing fake news. It, therefore, puts pressure onto certain press organs in order to direct and focus their attention onto M23, hence tarnish the image of the latter because we have legitimate grievances that expose its bad governance," said Kanyuka.
Tshisekedi accuses Rwanda of working with M23 to destabilise the DRC, a claim supported by UN investigations.
Last week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in the DRC and later Rwanda to meet the leaders of both countries about the situation in east DRC.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame has refuted claims of supporting M23 and repeated this to Blinken during their meeting.
M23 is flagged as a terrorist group by the UN.The group was formed in April 2012 by former National Congress for the Defence of the People soldiers who broke ranks with the DRC government and peacekeeping contingent of the UN Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
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