M23 Rebels Meet Uhuru In Mombasa, Agree To Withdraw From DRC’s North Kivu

Leaders of the M23 rebel group met with regional peace facilitator, former Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, in Mombasa, where they agreed to withdraw fighters from the Democratic Republic of Congo’s North Kivu province and follow a ceasefire.

But the meeting came as activists in eastern DR Congo demanded that the East African Community Regional Force (EACRF) take military action against any rebels opposed to the Congolese army in what could escalate tensions further.

The Mombasa meeting came weeks after M23 rebels asked to table their grievances to Mr Kenyatta, the appointed peace facilitator of the East African Community which, alongside the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) has been trying to pacify eastern DRC.

Bertrand Bisimwa, chairman of the M23 led the group to the meeting. The M23 had been excluded from dialogue sessions with the Congolese government until they withdraw from all occupied territories.

A communiqué issued on Thursday says the M23 declared willingness to seek peace.

“In a demonstration of goodwill and willingness to work towards the settlement of the situation in the North-Kivu, the leaders of the M23 agreed to continue with orderly withdrawal and adhere to a ceasefire,” the statement reads.

In North Kivu, the M23 had already withdrawn from the city of Kibumba and the Rumangabo camp. But the Congolese army has demanded more, accusing rebels of deceiving the international community and the population.

On Thursday, in North Kivu, civil society organisations issued an ultimatum to the EACRF “to attack the rebels.” The activists are threatening to organise protest marches against the presence of the regional force, as was the case with the UN peacekeeping mission in July 2022. 

The communiqué of the Mombasa meeting also says that “the leaders of M23 urged President Kenyatta to assist in assuring that there is safety in DRC and that the citizen rights are upheld and recognised, and that all the local and foreign armed group fighting in the eastern DRC also lay down their arms, cease any fighting or attacks on the M23 and seek resolution of the conflict through peaceful means.”

M23 rebels further agreed to continue to respect and cooperate with the East African regional force that has now begun to take control of the areas they vacate. This process is in “adherence to the decision of the extraordinary meeting of EAC chiefs of general staff held in Bujumbura on 8th November 2022”, says the communiqué. 

At a time when the facilitator is pleased that the situation in the North-Kivu, “which was the most volatile in the conflict in the entire eastern DRC had achieved progress with increased stability and security”, the Congolese population, especially in North Kivu, is impatient for the East African regional force to open a confrontation with the M23 rebels. Many are already asking the regional force to “clarify its mandate” because, they say, the force is “supposed to attack the rebels”.