East African regional leaders on Saturday February 4th, 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.
Under Article 11 (3), the Treaty establishing the EAC states that its the responsibility of the Summit to constantly review the state of peace and security in the Community, make decisions, and provide guidance in order to ensure peace and stability in the Community.
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. The restoration of peace and security in Eastern DRC is a win for the region & development.
“The quest for peace in Eastern DRC is a top regional priority. The gains of integration can only be realized if peace and security is established throughout the region,” said EAC Secretary General Hon. (Dr.) Peter Mutuku Muthuki at the 20th Extra Ordinary Summit of EAC Heads of State.
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.