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DRC fighting resumes, M23 say ceasefire deal doesn’t affect them

Fighting between troops in the Democratic Republic of Congo and M23 rebels in the east of the country resumed on Friday as the armed group said a ceasefire agreement between African leaders “does not really concern them”.

Reporting from Kilimanyoka, on the outskirts of Goma in eastern DRC, Al Jazeera’s Malcolm Webb said fighting continues in western M23 territory, around Chumba, Swagara and Bwiza. Military sources told Webb that the M23 is “reinforcing, bringing in more fighters, more weapons” ahead of the ceasefire deadline of 16:00 GMT.

The Tutsi-led M23 group is waging its most serious offensive in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo since 2012, further destabilizing an area where multiple armed groups have disputed land and resources for decades.

The ceasefire agreement brokered between African leaders in the Angolan capital Luanda on Wednesday called for the withdrawal of the rebels from the “occupied areas” and their “retreat to their initial positions”.

But Lawrence Kanyuka, the M23’s political spokesman, told the AFP news agency on Thursday that: “The M23 has seen the document on social media… There was no one at the summit. [from M23] so it doesn’t really concern us… Normally, when there is a ceasefire, it is between the two warring sides”.

Under Wednesday’s agreement, if the rebels refuse to stop fighting, the East African regional force deploying to Goma will “use force” to drive them out.

Al Jazeera’s Webb, reporting from near the front line on Thursday, said: “Kenyan troops arrived here in recent weeks, started clearing ground for their first military post which is just north of the city of Goma. … The UN peacekeepers are also here.”

He said that in the absence of a ceasefire, people were waiting to see “if the presence of more foreign forces is going to prevent further advances by the armed group.”

Thousands of people have been displaced in recent weeks as the DRC army fights to stop the M23 advance. Many have sought refuge in and around Goma, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the front line, which rebels briefly seized in 2012 before being driven back the following year.

Demonstrations in Goma

Hundreds also marched in Goma on Thursday to protest the ceasefire agreement, saying it does not address Rwanda’s alleged support for the M23 group.

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Protesters made their way through the city center behind banners denouncing the international community’s “silence and ambiguity” in the face of organized mass killings “throughout Rwanda”.

“These agreements and summits do not interest us. What interests us is peace and security,” civil society activist and protest leader John Banyene told the Reuters news agency.

The march ended at the French and British consulates, where Banyene read a memorandum calling on foreign powers to sanction Rwanda and Uganda for their alleged involvement in the M23.

“These people have already organized so many summits on the Democratic Republic of the Congo that they have not brought any solution,” protester Placide Nzilamba told Reuters.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo accuses Rwanda of supporting the M23, although Rwanda denies this. The United Nations said in August that it had “strong evidence” that Rwandan troops had been fighting alongside the M23; The United States and the European Union have called on Rwanda to stop supporting the group.

The resurgence of fighting has caused a diplomatic break between the Democratic Republic of the Congo 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 the President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Felix Tshisekedi, and the Rwandan Foreign Minister, Vincent Biruta, but not by the Rwandan President, Paul Kagame. There were no representatives of the M23.

M23’s Kanyuka, speaking to AFP on Thursday, said the rebels had declared a “unilateral ceasefire” in April and believed it was still in effect. “If tomorrow at 18:00 (16:00 GMT), or in the morning, the government does not attack us, we will still be there,” he said, adding: otherwise, “we are defending ourselves.”

“We are always ready for a direct dialogue with the Congolese government to resolve the root causes of the conflicts,” Kanyuka told AFP.

The Kinshasa government has refused to engage with the M23 group, calling it a “terrorist movement”, while it occupies territory in the Democratic Republic of Congo.


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