East African regional leaders demand ceasefire in eastern Congo

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FILE PHOTO: Congolese victims of ethnic violence rest inside a ward at the General Hospital in Bunia, Ituri province in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo June 25, 2019. REUTERS/Olivia Acland

East African regional leaders on Saturday renewed their call for an immediate ceasefire by all sides in the conflict in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo that pits the country’s military against a rebel group it has accused Rwanda of supporting.

At a summit in Burundi’s capital Bujumbura, the leaders of the regional East African Community (EAC) bloc called for an “immediate ceasefire by all parties,” according to a communique issued at the end of the meeting.

The M23 rebel group has seized large areas of eastern Congo’s North Kivu province in a rapid onslaught since Oct. 20 that has threatened the provincial capital, Goma.

The conflict has inflamed regional tensions with Congo accusing neighbour Rwanda of backing and sponsoring the Tutsi-led rebellion. United Nations experts and Western powers have also accused Rwanda of backing the M23, although Rwanda has denied any involvement.

Saturday’s meeting was the latest diplomatic effort to try to end the insurgency, which has displaced at least 520,000 people since March 2022 in North Kivu, a territory long plagued by conflict.

Earlier this week, Pope Francis visited Congo and called for an end to violence.

Regional leaders had brokered an agreement in November under which the rebels were meant to cease fire and withdraw from recently seized positions by Jan. 15, but that did not happen.

A U.N. internal report said the rebels were flouting the ceasefire and withdrawal terms.

Saturday’s summit was attended by heads of state from Rwanda, Congo, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Burundi and senior officials from the region.

They also demanded the withdrawal of all foreign and armed groups from Congo and asked regional military chiefs to meet within one week and set a timeframe for the withdrawal.

“The summit reiterated its call to all parties to de-escalate tensions,” the communique read.

On Jan. 27, M23 rebels took control of the town of Kitshanga in Masisi territory and control of a new road, further isolating the provincial capital Goma.

SOURCE: REUTERS

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