May 23, 2024

A town at the heart of mining coltan, a key ingredient in making mobile phones, has been seized in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo by rebel forces, their spokesman has said.

Rubaya fell into the hands of M23 fighters on Tuesday following heavy clashes with government troops, Willy Ngoma said.

The government has not yet commented, but a civil society activist confirmed that M23 had captured the strategic town.

It happened on the day France’s President Emmanuel Macron called on neighbouring Rwanda to “halt its support” for the M23 rebel group.

Mr Macron made his comments after holding talks with DR Congo’s President Félix Tshisekedi in France’s capital, Paris.

Rwanda has repeatedly denied backing the rebels, who have captured much territory in the mineral-rich east during fighting over the past 18 months.

DR Congo is the world’s second-biggest producer of coltan, with most of it coming from the mines around Rubaya in the Masisi district.

Coltan is used to make batteries for electric vehicles and mobile phones.

DR Congo’s government accuses Rwanda of backing the rebels to steal its mineral wealth, an allegation the government in Kigali denies.

Mr Ngoma told the BBC that M23 had seized Rubaya “not because of its richness, but to chase away our enemy”.

A civil society activist in Masisi, Voltaire Sadiki, said the rebels had “ordered civilians with guns to hand them [in] and continue with their lives”.

The rebels, initially Congolese army deserters, accuse the government of marginalising the country’s ethnic Tutsi minority and refusing to negotiate with them. They regard the verdant hills around Masisi as their true homeland.

Mr Tshisekedi says the rebels are a front for what he calls the “expansionist aims” of Rwanda, which it denies.

More about the conflict in DR Congo

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