DRC police disperse protest against slow M23 rebel pullback

The rebels have been accused of flouting a ceasefire and making withdrawals critics consider to be mainly ceremonial.

Congolese police talk to demonstrators
Congolese police talk to demonstrators calling on authorities to enforce an agreed withdrawal of M23 rebels from occupied territory in the region, within Goma in the North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo January 18, 2023 [Djaffar Sabiti/Reuters]

Police have fired tear gas to disperse demonstrators in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s eastern city of Goma. Protesters on Wednesday were calling for authorities to enforce an agreed withdrawal of M23 rebels from occupied territory in the region.

Regional leaders brokered a ceasefire in November, under which the Tutsi-led M23 group – which launched a fresh offensive last year – was meant to pull out of recently captured positions. The deadline for this was January 15, according to the DRC’s presidency.

But M23 has been accused of flouting the deal and occupying territory elsewhere to compensate for withdrawals that critics have argued were mainly ceremonial. President Felix Tshisekedi made similar accusations on Tuesday.

The M23 has denied the claims and in turn, accused DRC authorities of breaching of the agreement.

Civil society groups called protests in Goma on Wednesday to denounce delays in implementing the M23 withdrawal.

City authorities had banned the march, but hundreds still took part, chanting and holding signs denouncing the East African Community (EAC), which set up a regional military force last year to end the unrest.

“We are asking EAC forces to leave the city and wage offensives where the M23 is,” said protester Gloire Bagaya, 26.

“They should either go home or go the front line against the enemy.”

Police fired tear gas at the demonstrators and arrested about a dozen people, including three journalists, according to a Reuters reporter on the scene.

A local police commander denied that any arrests were made. The EAC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The M23’s latest offensive has displaced at least 450,000 people and set off a diplomatic crisis between DRC and neighbouring Rwanda.

The DRC has accused Rwanda of exacerbating the conflict by supporting the rebels – an accusation levelled also by Western powers and United Nations experts. Rwanda has denied the claims.

Several protests have taken place in Goma during the past months, the latest directed at Rwanda and the ceasefire deal.

Complaints that UN peacekeepers have failed to protect civilians against longstanding militia violence spurred deadly protests.

Source: News Agencies