Conflict in eastern DRC: M23 rebels say they are ready to withdraw from occupied territories

Photo credit, Getty Images

M23 rebels, one of the main fighting groups in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, have said they are ready to withdraw from territories in the region, in accordance with resolutions adopted at a summit held in November in the Angolan capital, Luanda.

The rebel group, which has taken swathes of territory in Rutshuru and Nyiragongo in recent months, has also demanded to meet with the East African Regional Force as well as mediators of the peace process led by regional leaders.

A statement by Lawrence Kanyuka, the political spokesman for M23, adds that the rebel group supports regional efforts to find a lasting solution to the instability in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

The statement comes on the day a week-long round of peace talks concluded in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.

The M23 was not part of the summit, which brought together representatives of some 50 armed groups operating in the mineral-rich region.

Photo credit, Alexis Huguet via Getty Images

image caption,

Former Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta (C) is greeted by military authorities upon his arrival in Goma, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, November 15, 2021.

Delegates agreed on disarmament and a stabilization program for former rebels.

Former Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, the mediator, told delegates that all foreign armed groups based in the restive region should return to their country of origin and engage in talks with the governments there.

DRC President Felix Tshisekedi has repeatedly accused Rwanda of supporting the M23, which Kigali continues to deny.

Some East African countries have already deployed forces under the flag of the East African Community to fight the various armed groups based in eastern DRC.

Who are the M23 rebels?

The M23 takes its name from a peace accord signed by the DR Congo government and a former pro-Tutsi militia on March 23, 2009.

The Tutsi group had long accused the Congolese government of marginalizing the country’s Tutsi ethnic minority and wanted to fight a Hutu-majority militia based in DR Congo called FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda).

DR Congo and Rwanda then exchanged accusations about who was behind which group, which caused tensions between the two neighbors.

The M23 rebels are the children of Kinyarwanda-speaking communities, many of whom have moved to Rwanda over the past two decades before returning, says Samba Cyuzuzo of the BBC’s Great Lakes service.

But “they have always been there, because at the time of the kingdoms, this region was considered part of Rwanda before the arrival of colonialism”, he explains.