M23 rebels have made gains in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, raising fears of a further deterioration of security. The African Union has called for a ceasefire and negotiations to ensure peace.
The African Union (AU) on Sunday called for a ceasefire in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), after Congolese rebels captured strategic terrain in the east of the country.
The March 23 Movement, widely known as M23, tightened its grip on several territories by seizing the towns of Kiwanja and Rutshuru Saturday, cutting North Kivu’s capital Goma off from the upper half of the province.
The AU’s statement expressed “extreme concern at the deteriorating security situation” in eastern DRC.
The organization called for an immediate ceasefire and demanded all warring parties “respect international law, the safety and security of civilians and the stability at the borders of all countries in the region.”
In response to M23’s latest activities, the DRC expelled Rwandan Ambassador Vincent Karenga, as well as recalling the Congolese ambassador in Kigali.
Kinshasa accuses neighboring Rwanda of supporting M23, an accusation authorities in Kigali have officially denied.
African regional powers increasingly worried
The DRC’s move is likely to exacerbate regional tensions. According to news agencies, thousands of anti-Rwanda protesters marched through the eastern DRC city of Goma Monday, demanding weapons to fight.
The AU is placing hopes for progress towards peace on the third inter-Congolese peace dialogue scheduled to take place in the Kenyan capital Nairobi from November 4 to 13.
In a statement, the AU also expressed, “full support to the Luanda Road Map.”
At a summit in Angola this July, Rwandan President Paul Kagame and DRC President Felix Tshisekedi agreed to deescalate tensions by normalizing relations and building mutual trust.
Angola’s President Joao Lourenco said on Monday that he would dispatch Foreign Minister Tete Antonio to DRC to mediate the dispute, highlighting the concern caused by growing tensions in the region.
On Monday, Rwandan President Paul Kagame tweeted that he had spoken with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres about ways to de-escalate the conflict.
Rising number of displaced Congolese fleeing to Uganda
M23’s advances this weekend represent a doubling of the territory under its control.
MONUSCO, the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo, said four of its soldiers had been wounded by mortar fire and shooting over the weekend. It issued a statement condemning the “hostile actions of the M23” and warning of serious consequences for the civilian population.
Currently, Congolese from the areas affected are fleeing into neighboring Uganda. According to humanitarian agencies, at least 10,000 people, mostly women and children, have crossed the Busanza border into western Uganda since the weekend.
Earlier, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said some 23,000 people had fled the DRC since fighting between government troops and rebels resumed.
Who are the M23 rebels?
Founded in 2012, M23 is a mostly Congolese Tutsi-led insurgency group. It rose to prominence that year when it captured Goma, the largest city in the east of the DRC, before a joint Congolese-UN offensive was able to drive them out.
After a peace deal in 2013, many M23 fighters were integrated into the DRC’s national military.
But M23 resumed fighting in late 2021, accusing the government in Kinshasa of failing to honor its commitments under the peace agreement.
Edited by: Cristina Krippahl