Fighting between forces in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and M23 rebels resumed in the country’s east on Friday, with the armed group saying the ceasefire agreement between African leaders “doesn’t really concern them”.
Reporting from Kilimanyuka, outside Goma in eastern DRC, Al Jazeera’s Malcolm Webb said fighting is continuing in the west of M23 territory, around Chumba, Sawagara and Bwiza. Military sources told Webb that the March 23 Movement is “strengthening, bringing in more fighters, more weapons” ahead of the 16:00 GMT ceasefire deadline.
The Tutsi-led March 23 Movement is waging its most serious offensive in eastern DRC since 2012, further destabilizing a region where multiple armed groups have disputed territory and resources for decades.
The Ceasefire agreement On Wednesday, African leaders in the Angolan capital, Luanda, called for the withdrawal of the rebels from the “occupied areas” and their “withdrawal to their initial positions.”
But Lawrence Kanioka, the M23’s political spokesman, told AFP on Thursday: “The M23 saw the document on social media… There was no one at the top.” [from M23] So it doesn’t really matter to us… Usually when there is a ceasefire, it is between the two warring parties.”
According to Wednesday’s agreement, if the rebels refuse to stop fighting, the East African regional force deployed in Goma will “use force” to drive them out.
Reporting from near the front line on Thursday, Webb said on Al Jazeera, “Kenyan forces have arrived here in the past few weeks, and have begun to prepare the ground for their first military field point which is just north of Goma city…UN peacekeepers are in Also here.”
In the absence of a ceasefire, he said, people are waiting to see “whether the presence of more foreign forces will prevent further advances by the armed group.”
Thousands have been displaced in recent weeks as the DRC’s army has struggled to halt the M23’s advance. Many have taken refuge in and around Goma, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the front line, which the rebels held briefly in 2012 before being pushed back the following year.
Demonstrations in Goma
On Thursday, hundreds also demonstrated in Goma to protest the ceasefire agreement, saying it does not address Rwanda’s alleged support for the M23 group.
The demonstrators made their way through the city center behind banners denouncing the “silence and obscurity” of the international community towards the mass killings staged “across Rwanda”.
These agreements and summits do not concern us. “What we care about is peace and security,” civil society activist and protest leader John Panini told Reuters news agency.
The rally ended at the French and British consulates, where Banyeni read a memorandum asking foreign powers to punish Rwanda and Uganda for their alleged involvement with the March 23 Movement.
“These people already organized a lot of summits in the DRC that didn’t offer any solutions,” protester Placid Nzilampa told Reuters.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo accuses Rwanda of supporting the March 23 Movement, although Rwanda denies this. The United Nations said in August that it had “strong evidence” that Rwandan forces were fighting alongside the M23. The United States and the European Union called on Rwanda to stop supporting the group.
The renewed fighting has caused a diplomatic row between the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Rwanda. African leaders under the auspices of former Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta are mediating the crisis.
Wednesday’s mini-summit in Luanda was attended by DRC President Felix Tshisekedi and Rwandan Foreign Minister Vincent Perotta, but not Rwandan President Paul Kagame. There were no representatives of the March 23 Movement.
Kanyuka of the March 23 Movement, speaking to AFP on Thursday, said the rebels declared a “unilateral ceasefire” in April, which they believe is still in effect. “If the government does not attack us tomorrow at six in the evening (16:00 GMT), we will still be there,” he said, adding: “Otherwise, we will defend ourselves.”
“We are always ready for direct dialogue with the Congolese government to solve the root causes of conflicts,” Kanioka told AFP.
The government in Kinshasa has refused to deal with the M23, which it calls a “terrorist movement”, as long as it occupies territory in the DRC.