East African regional leaders have 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 that the government has accused Rwanda of supporting.
At a summit in Burundi’s capital Bujumbura on Saturday, the leaders of the regional East African Community (EAC) bloc enjoined an “immediate ceasefire by all parties,” according to a communique issued at the end of the meeting.
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“The summit reiterated its call to all parties to de-escalate tensions,” the communique read.
The M23 rebel group has seized large areas of eastern DRC’s North Kivu province in a rapid onslaught since October 20 that has threatened the provincial capital, Goma.
The conflict has inflamed regional tensions with the DRC 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. Rwanda has denied any involvement.
Saturday’s meeting was the latest diplomatic effort to try to end the conflict, which has displaced at least 520,000 people since March 2022 in North Kivu.
Earlier this week, Pope Francis visited the DRC 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 January 15, but no withdrawal took place.
A UN internal report said the rebels were flouting the ceasefire and withdrawal terms.
Saturday’s summit was attended by heads of state from Rwanda, DRC, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Burundi and other senior officials from the region.
They also demanded the withdrawal of all foreign and armed groups from the DRC and asked regional military chiefs to meet within one week and set a timeframe for the withdrawal.
On January 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.