M23 is given an ultimatum: Withdraw and stop the violence or face the regional forces

M23 is given an ultimatum: Withdraw and stop the violence or face the regional forces

LUANDA, Angola – The M23 rebel group has been demanded to stop attacks in the Democratic Republic of Congo, withdraw from captured areas by Friday this week and give dialogue a chance.

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This was the ultimatum message of the first ever joint mini-summit between the East African Community and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) in Luanda, specifically aimed at addressing the crisis in the DRC.

“If the M23 rebel group refuses to break free and liberate all the territories they currently occupy, the heads of state of the East African Community will instruct the regional forces to use force to force them to submit.” Reading part of the communiqué for the mini-summit in Luanda.

The meeting chaired by President João Lourenço and other EAC Heads of State in Luanda-Angola also agreed that as the M23 rebels withdraw from the areas, the Kenyan contingent of the East African Community Regional Force (EACRF) can be deployed as security guards of installations and protect civilians.

According to the mini-summit communique “During the disengagement and withdrawal of M23 to its original positions, Kenya will deploy its contingents to Goma, then Bunagana, Rutshuru, Kiwandja. These territories are currently under M23 control, except for Goma and part of Rutshuru.

The leaders also agreed to establish the disarmament and cantonment of the M23 rebels in Congolese territory under the control of the FARDC, the regional force and the ad hoc verification mechanism, in cooperation with Monusco.

The mini-summit in Luanda further demanded that all foreign armed groups operating on Congolese soil, particularly FDLR-FOCA, RED TABARA, ADF and others, immediately lay down their arms and commit to their unconditional repatriation.

They specifically asked for “a cessation of hostilities in general, and in particular the attacks by M23 against FARDC and Monusco from Friday, November 25 at 6:00 p.m.,” the communiqué added, referring to the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC.

They gathered in Luanda “to establish a timetable for the implementation of priority measures, with the aim of the cessation of hostilities and the immediate withdrawal of M23 from occupied Congolese localities and the coordination of the Luanda and Nairobi processes”.

The Angolan president has led what is known as the Luanda Track, meant to smooth over differences between Rwanda and the DRC, where the Rwandan government has been accused of supporting M23 rebels. But the Luanda track has now merged with the Nairobi process, driven by the EAC to allow armed groups in the DRC to lay down their arms.

The Wednesday meeting was also attended by Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi, Burundian President Evariste Ndayishimiye, who chairs the East African Community, and Kenya’s former president Uhuru Kenyatta, who mediates the Congolese conflict on behalf of the East African region.

Rwanda was represented by Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta. Special Representative of the Chairperson of the African Union Commission and Head of the African Union Liaison Office in the DRC Michelle Ndiaye, Executive Secretary of the ICGLR João Samuel Caholo and Commander of the Ad Hoc Verification Mechanism Lt-Gen Nassone João also attended the meeting as guests.

This meeting came almost a week after President Paul Kagame promised facilitator Uhuru Kenyatta that he will help win over M23 to stop fighting, even though Rwanda denies supporting the group.

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