M23 rebels, troops clash in DR Congo despite summit call
- The M23, a Tutsi-led group re-emerged from dormancy in November 2021.
- The rebels accused the DRC of ignoring a promise to integrate its fighters into the army.
- Late last year the EAC created a regional force aimed at stabilising eastern DRC.
Fighting flared on Monday between the Democratic Republic of Congo’s army and M23 rebels in the country’s troubled east, just days after African leaders called for a ceasefire and a pullback by armed groups.
“There have been clashes since 5am with the M23” in the Kitshanga area, northwest of the main eastern city of Goma, a security source said.
“They are rebels, they don’t care about summits,” said local civil society leader Toby Kahangu, referring to the meeting last week in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa.
Friday’s summit was the latest bid by the seven-nation East African Community (EAC) to silence the guns in the mineral-rich region, where fighting has driven hundreds of thousands from their homes and inflamed regional tensions.
Call for ceasefire
The meeting called for a ceasefire and for all armed groups to withdraw from occupied territory by March 30.
But there remains widespread scepticism in the Democratic Republic of Congo about the worth of such regional get-togethers.
“From summit to summit, in Luanda, Nairobi or Bujumbura, resolutions are taken and never applied”, said Gentile Sonny Mulume, a member of a campaign group called LUCHA.
“We don’t see any glimmer of hope… The Congolese people continue to be distracted and the head of state (Felix Tshisekedi) continues to be deceived,” he added.
The M23, a Tutsi-led group — whose name stands for the March 23 Movement — re-emerged from dormancy in November 2021, accusing the DRC of ignoring a promise to integrate its fighters into the army.
String of victories
It subsequently won a string of victories over state forces, seizing swathes of territory in North Kivu province and nearing Goma.
The DRC accuses its smaller neighbour Rwanda of backing the group, a charge supported by independent UN experts as well as the United States and other western countries, but denied by Kigali.
Late last year the EAC created a regional force aimed at stabilising eastern DRC.
But it faces the same challenges as the UN’s peacekeeping mission, which faces mounting criticism from locals who accuse it of passivity in the face of armed groups plaguing the region.