The former Kenyan president and Rwandan leader agree on the need for M23 rebels to cease firing and withdraw from eastern DRC.

Former Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and Rwandan leader Paul Kagame have agreed on the need for M23 rebels to cease firing and withdraw from captured territories in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), according to the East African Community (EAC) bloc.

Kenyatta and Kagame agreed over the phone on “the need for an immediate ceasefire,” the EAC said in a statement on Friday. A second round of talks will take place next week in Angola’s capital, Luanda, it said.

“People will wait and see if M23 and Congolese government forces will indeed stop fighting,” Al Jazeera’s Malcolm Webb said from Goma, the capital of the eastern province of North Kivu.

He added that the Kenyan foreign ministry has also confirmed the phone call between the Rwandan president and Kenyatta, who has brokered peace talks between the DRC and rebel groups.

“They’ve even been fighting for the last 12 hours. There are reports that gunshots and bombs are still going off and whether they will indeed withdraw from those areas ahead of talks that are due to begin Monday morning,” Webb said.

M23 fighters have made significant gains in recent weeks, advancing towards Goma as fighting with government forces intensified.

Formed in 2012, the M23 rebels seized huge swathes of territory the same year, briefly capturing Goma before being chased out by Congolese and UN forces into Uganda and Rwanda the following year.

The M23 signed a peace agreement in 2013, after which many of its fighters were integrated into the DRC army.

The armed group started fighting again in late 2021 after lying dormant for years.

Women in colorful clothing, one with a yellow jerry can and others with food bags on their heads, flee fighting between M23 rebels and Congolese forces.  There are also goats and children in the line of people.
Recent fighting between M23 and DRC forces has killed hundreds and displaced nearly 200,000 residents [Moses Sawasawa/AP Photo]

They have staged three major offensives since March — the latest, which began in late October, killed hundreds and displaced nearly 200,000.

The unrest sparked diplomatic tensions between the DRC and Rwanda, which Kinshasa accuses of supporting the rebels. Rwanda denies the accusation. Last month, the DRC expelled a Rwandan ambassador over the issue.

Regional efforts are underway to ease relations between the two countries and end the conflict unfolding along their border.

Kenyatta visited the DRC earlier this week as a facilitator of the EAC-led talks. He met in Kinshasa and visited displaced people in Goma, where the M23 moved closer this week.

Angolan President Joao Lourenco brokered a first meeting between DRC and Rwandan officials earlier this month.

“It is encouraging to see Paul Kagame recognize that he can influence the M23,” Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi’s deputy spokesman told Reuters.

“We’ll see what happens on the ground,” she added.

The Rwandan government spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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