M23 rebels have agreed to continue an “orderly withdrawal” from conquered territory in the restive east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya’s former president Uhuru Kenyatta said Thursday.
Kenyatta met M23 leaders in his role as mediator in the conflict on behalf of the seven-nation East African Community regional bloc, according to a statement from his office.
The Tutsi-led M23 has captured swathes of territory in North Kivu province in recent months and advanced towards its capital Goma.
But under heavy international pressure, it pledged to retreat and last Friday it gave back a key Congolese army base just 40 kilometres (25 miles) north of Goma.
“In demonstration of goodwill and the willingness to work towards the settlement of the situation in North Kivu, the leaders of the M23 agreed to continue with an orderly withdrawal and to adhere to a strict ceasefire,” Kenyatta said in the statement after the meeting in the Kenyan coastal city of Mombasa.
“They further agreed to continue to respect and cooperate with the East African Regional Force that has now begun to take control of the areas vacated by the M23,” he added.
M23, whose name stands for “the March 23 Movement”, again took up its weapons against the government in late 2021, accusing Kinshasa of failing to respect promises to reintegrate the rebels into the army.
The return of the Rumangabo camp followed a similar handover at a base in Kibumba last month, although the rebels have gained ground elsewhere, raising doubts about the future of the year-long conflict.
But Kenyatta’s statement said the meeting noted that there had been “increased stability and security over the past four weeks” across the eastern DRC.
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“Many people who had been previously displaced from their homes have now begun to return to their homes.”
M23 meanwhile also urged Kenyatta to ensure that “all local and foreign armed groups” cease fighting or attacking the rebels and called for an end to “hate speech”, the statement said.
The resurgence of the M23 has soured relations between the DRC and its smaller central African neighbour Rwanda, which Kinshasa accuses of backing the rebels.
The United States, several European countries as well as United Nations experts agree that Rwanda is assisting the M23.
Kigali denies the charge and accuses the Congolese government of colluding with the FDLR a descendant of Rwandan Hutu extremist groups that carried out the 1994 Tutsi genocide in Rwanda.
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