The M23 rebel group defied calls for a ceasefire on Friday, citing continued attacks by the Congolese army, the FARDC, but asked to meet East African Community mediator Uhuru Kenyatta and Angolan President Joao Lorenco. to plead your case.
The demand came as the East African Community laid the groundwork on Friday to resume dialogue on the crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in Nairobi, as the region holds its collective breath in a ceasefire call for rebels in the M23.
The ceasefire call gave the group until 6 p.m. local time on Friday as a precondition for dialogue. But by Friday afternoon, M23 had not been heard from and sources told The EastAfrican that the group will not be allowed to participate in the Nairobi talks until they heed the call for a ceasefire. Indeed, Kenya sent its latest batch of troops to the Democratic Republic of Congo on Friday, where they were to await a call on whether to venture into the Bunagana, Rutshuru and Kiwanja areas that have been under M23 occupation.
Willing to join the dialogue.
However, at press time, M23 spokesman Lawrence Kanyuka indicated that they were willing to join the dialogue as long as Congolese forces do not attack them.
“We are always ready for a direct dialogue with the Congolese government to resolve the root causes of the conflicts,” he said.
Plans for the resumption of peace talks followed an ultimatum issued by mediators this week, and there are indications that there are “good signs” that the M23 rebel group will heed the call to lay down its arms and allow dialogue. But at the same time, the EAC was putting its East African Community Regional Force (EACRF) on standby to force the rebels to surrender.
“If the M23 does not withdraw, the CAO Heads of State will authorize the use of force to force the group to comply,” read the ultimatum in the statement released on Wednesday after a mini-summit of leaders in the Angolan capital. , Luanda.
Addressing the DR Congo crisis
The Heads of State, Presidents Evariste Ndayishimie of Burundi, Felix Tshisekedi of DR Congo and João Lourenço of Angola, met for the first joint mini-summit between the East African Community and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR ), seeking specifically to address the DR Congo crisis. Uhuru Kenyatta attended as a DR Congo conflict mediator representing the East African region. Rwanda was represented by its Foreign Minister, Vincent Biruta. Uganda was not.
Others included Michelle Ndiaye, Special Representative of the Chairman of the African Union Commission and Head of the African Union Liaison Office in the DRC, João Samuel Caholo, Executive Secretary of the ICGLR and Lieutenant General Nassone João, Commander of the Mechanism. of Ad Hoc Verification.
After the meeting chaired by President João Lourenço, a mediator appointed by the African Union, the leaders urged the M23 to “cease fire and withdraw from the occupied territories.”
According to the schedule seen by East africaNairobi will host another inter-Congolese dialogue between government officials, community leaders and different ethnic groups from DR Congo as part of the Nairobi process.
The meeting will be chaired by Kenyatta and will be attended by EACRF officials.
The Nairobi process focuses more on talks between the DR Congo rebels, the local community and the Kinshasa government with a view to ending internal hostilities, while the Luanda process aims to repair the diplomatic dispute between Rwanda and DR Congo.
The Kinshasa government has refused to engage with the M23 group, which it calls a “terrorist movement”, while it occupies territory in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“We have received positive information that they have started to withdraw. Of course, they are raising their own security concerns,” a source familiar with the Luanda discussions told The EastAfrican.
After the call for a ceasefire, the rebel group suggested that the mini-summit decision did not concern them. However, they insisted that they are facing the Congolese army with whom they should call a truce, if it works.
At a press conference in Kinshasa on Thursday, Congolese Foreign Minister Christophe Lutundula said: “Tomorrow at 6:00 p.m., the M23 must stop all its attacks.”
The rebels reply: “If tomorrow at 18:00 (16:00 GMT), or in the morning, the government does not attack us, we will still be there (for the talks).”
inactive for years
The M23 rebels had been inactive for years but took up arms late last year and were viewed from the start by Kinshasa as being actively supported by Rwanda, which denies the charges. They are now the most formidable group, despite the fact that eastern DRC has more than 120 active armed groups.
Rebels recently seized large swathes of territory north of Goma, the provincial capital of North Kivu province.
At the mini-summit in Luanda, the leaders agreed to establish a disarmament and cantonment of the M23 in Congolese territory under the control of the Congolese army (FARDC), the regional force and the ad hoc verification mechanism, with the collaboration of Monusco, the maintenance forces of UN peace.
“During the withdrawal and withdrawal of the M23 to their initial positions, Kenya will deploy its contingents to Goma, then Bunagana, Rutshuru, Kiwandja,” the mini-summit statement read. These territories are currently under the control of the M23, except for Goma and part of Rutshuru.
They also called on foreign armed groups operating on Congolese soil, in particular FDLR-Foca, RED Tabara, ADF and others, to immediately lay down their arms and undertake their unconditional repatriation.
This Luanda meeting came almost a week after President Paul Kagame of Rwanda promised Mr Kenyatta to help persuade the M23 to stop fighting. Rwanda has always denied any accusation of supporting the rebel group.
Reporting by Mary Wambui, Patrick Ilunga and Arnaldo Veira