DRC Crisis: Leaders give M23 rebels ultimatum to halt violence

By PATRICK ILUNGA

By ARNALDO VIEIRA

Leaders in the East African region on Wednesday escalated efforts to halt continued violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo, asking rebel group M23 to halt attacks, withdraw from conquered areas and give dialogue a chance.

And once they withdraw, a mini summit in Luanda, Angola, directed that the Kenyan contingent of the East African Community Regional Force (EACRF) be deployed as security guards of installations and protect civilians from harm.

The ultimatum came from the first ever joint mini summit between the East African Community and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) in Luanda, specifically seeking to tackling the Congo crisis.

Withdraw from captured areas

After the meeting chaired by President João Lourenço, the African Union’s appointed mediator, the leaders urged the M23 to “to cease fire and withdraw from captured territories”.

In Luanda, leaders agreed to set up a disarmament and cantonment of the M23 in Congolese territory under the control of the FARDC, the regional force and the ad hoc verification mechanism, with the collaboration of Monusco.

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“During the disengagement and withdrawal of the M23 to its initial positions, Kenya will deploy its contingents to Goma, then Bunagana, Rutshuru, Kiwandja,” the mini summit communiqué reads. These territories are currently under M23 control, except for Goma and part of Rutshuru.

They also asked foreign armed groups operating on Congolese soil, notably FDLR-FOCA, RED TABARA, ADF and others to lay down their arms immediately and undertake their unconditional repatriation.

They specifically asked for the “the cessation of hostilities in general, and in particular, the attacks by the M23 against the FARDC and Monusco as of Friday 25 November at 6pm,” the communique added, referring to the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC.

Use force

“If the M23 refuses to disengage and liberate all the territories they currently occupy, the heads of state of the East African Community will instruct the regional force to use force to make them submit.”

They gathered in Luanda “to establish a timetable for the implementation of priority actions, with a view to the cessation of hostilities and the immediate withdrawal of the M23 from occupied Congolese localities and the coordination of the Luanda and Nairobi processes”.

The Angolan leader has been leading what is called the Luanda track, meant to iron out differences between Rwanda and DRC, which accuses Kigali of supporting M23 rebels. But the Luanda track has now merged with the Nairobi process, pushed by the EAC to have armed groups in the DRC to lay down arms.

The Wednesday meeting was also attended by Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi, Burundi’s President Evariste Ndayishimiye, who is the chairman of the East African community, and former Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta, who is mediating the Congolese conflict on behalf of the East African region.

Rwanda was represented by Foreign Affairs Minister Vincent Biruta. Special Representative of the Chairperson of the African Union Commission and Head of the African Union Liaison Office in the DRC Michelle Ndiaye, Executive Secretary of ICGLR João Samuel Caholo and Commander of the Ad Hoc Verification Mechanism Lt-Gen Nassone João also attended the meeting as guests.

This meeting came nearly a week after President Paul Kagame promised facilitator Uhuru Kenyatta he will assist in prevailing upon M23 to stop fighting, even though Rwanda denies supporting the group.

And it came as fighting between M23 rebels and the FARDC (Congolese army) intensified in North Kivu in the east of the country.

‘Direct dialogue’

The M23 has demanded “direct dialogue” with Kinshasa but vowed on Tuesday to fight to defend its people from what it called a ‘massacre’ by the FARDC. Kinshasa on its part rejects the idea of talking with the rebels unless they “withdraw from their positions and lay down their arms”.

According to the US, an end to the violence in eastern DRC is only “possible if M23 ceases its offensive, Rwanda ends its support to the M23, and all sides reject hate speech and follow through on peace and reconciliation commitments”.

Last week, the UN Security Council, while on a tour of the region last week, called “on all armed groups to immediately cease all forms of violence” ….and condemned the resumption of attacks by the M23.  But in a statement, the rebels accused the Congolese government of “totally ignoring the calls of the international community for dialogue through daily attacks”.

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