M23 rebels guard the area during the meeting between the East African Regional Force (EACRF) officials and M23 rebels during the handover ceremony at Rumangabo camp in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo on Jan 6, 2023. 9GUERCHOM NDEBO / AFP)
NAIROBI – The March 23 Movement (M23), a rebel group that has taken territory in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), has agreed to continue an "orderly withdrawal," a regional peace facilitator said.
Former Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, now serving as facilitator for the East African Community (EAC) peace process in the eastern DRC, met M23 leaders in the Kenyan coastal city of Mombasa on Thursday, where the rebel leaders also agreed to adhere to a strict ceasefire.
The M23 rebel group emerged from inactivity in late 2021 and has since captured swathes of territory in North Kivu province, with hundreds of thousands of people fleeing in fear
"They further agreed to continue to respect and cooperate with the East African Regional Force that has now begun to take control of the areas vacated by the M23," Kenyatta said in a statement issued Thursday evening.
The M23 rebel group emerged from inactivity in late 2021 and has since captured swathes of territory in North Kivu province, with hundreds of thousands of people fleeing in fear.
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M23 rebels have also advanced toward Goma, the provincial capital, in recent months.
On Dec 23 last year, M23 announced its withdrawal from Kibumba, a town about 20 kilometers from Goma, a commercial hub of over 1 million people, which it had briefly overrun in 2012.
The rebel leaders, in their Mombasa meeting, agreed to continue to respect and cooperate with the East African Regional Force that has now begun to take control of the areas vacated by the M23, a process in line with the decision of an extraordinary meeting of the EAC Chiefs of General Staff on Nov. 8 in Bujumbura, the commercial capital of Burundi.
"The meeting noted 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 over the past four weeks," Kenyatta said, adding that many people who had previously been displaced from their homes have now begun to return.
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The M23 leaders urged Kenyatta to help ensure that there is safety in the DRC and that citizen rights are upheld and recognized, and that all the local and foreign armed groups 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, the statement said.