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Fresh clashes as M23 rebels make gains in East DR Congo


 Recent flare-up of violence in DRC's east linked to the M23 group has reignited tensions between Kinshasa and Kigali. [Reuters]

M23 rebels in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo clashed with soldiers and rival militias on Thursday, according to officials, who said the group's fighters had also severed a vital road in the turbulent region.

The M23 has conquered swaths of territory in North Kivu province since last year and advanced toward its capital, Goma.

The group first leapt to prominence in 2012 when it captured the city of more than 1 million people before being driven out the following year.

Kivu Security Tracker, a respected violence monitor, said on Wednesday that the M23 was advancing in North Kivu's Masisi territory.

The Tutsi-led group had cut off the road leading between the town of Kitchanga, which is in Masisi, and Goma, it said.

Police and local government officials in the area confirmed to Agence France-Presse on Thursday that the road had been cut off.

The artery is considered vital for supplying Goma, especially since the main highway leading north out of the city has been cut off since an earlier M23 advance.

A resident of the village of Kilolirwe, in Masisi, said that clashes with the rebels were also ongoing near Kitchanga.

An army official, who declined to be named, also said that clashes there were continuing.

Heritier Ndangendange, the spokesman for the APCLS militia, described the situation in Kitchanga as tense but said the APCLS and allied fighters remained in control there.

The fresh clashes come after the M23 was required to withdraw from territory it occupies, under the terms of regional mediation efforts.

Former Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, a mediator for the East African Community bloc, warned on Wednesday the situation was "sharply deteriorating."

The fighting has triggered a humanitarian crisis and led to a row between DR Congo and neighboring Rwanda.

The government in Kinshasa accuses Rwanda of supporting the M23, something Kigali denies.

The M23 is among the scores of armed groups that roam the east of the mineral-rich Democratic Republic of Congo.

Many are a legacy of two wars at the end of the 20th century that claimed millions of lives and sucked in countries from around the region.

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