Clashes resumed between the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s army and M23 rebels in the east of the country on Friday, with the army saying a ceasefire deal between African leaders “doesn’t really affect them”.
Reporting from Kilimanyoka, outside Goma in eastern DRC, Al Jazeera’s Malcolm Webb said fighting is taking place west of the M23 area, near Chumba, Swagara and Bwiza. Military sources told Webb that M23 was “reinforcing, bringing in more fighters, more weapons” ahead of the 16:00GMT deadline.
The Tutsi-led M23 group has been waging the most violent attacks in eastern DRC since 2012, disrupting a region where several armed groups have been fighting over land and resources for years.
The cease-fire agreement reached between African leaders in the Angolan capital of Luanda on Wednesday calls for the withdrawal of the rebels “from occupied areas” and “abandoning their original activities”.
But M23’s political spokesperson, Lawrence Kanyuka, told AFP reporters on Thursday: “M23 has seen the document on television… [from M23] so it doesn’t really affect us… Most of the time if there is peace, it is between two warring parties.”
According to Wednesday’s agreement, if the rebels refuse to stop fighting, the east African army deployed to Goma will “use force” to push them out.
Al Jazeera’s Webb, reporting from near the front line on Thursday, said, “Kenyan soldiers have arrived here in the last few weeks, they have started preparing their first base which is north of the city of Goma… Here.”
He said that without a ceasefire, people are waiting to see “if the presence of foreign forces will hinder the progress of the army”.
Thousands of people have been displaced in the weeks since the DRC’s military has struggled to contain the M23 group. Many people have fled to Goma and surrounding areas, which is 20 kilometers from where the militants fought, and which the rebels briefly took over in 2012 before retaking them the following year.
Demonstrations in Goma
On Thursday, hundreds of people protested again in Goma against the cease-fire agreement, saying it does not deal with Rwanda’s alleged support for the M23 group.
Demonstrators marched through the city center behind placards condemning the “silence and incomprehension” of the international community regarding the mass killings “through Rwanda”.
“These agreements and meetings do not affect us. What interests us is peace and security,” John Banyene, a civil society and protest leader, told Reuters.
The protest ended at the French and British embassies, where Mr. Banyene read a document asking foreign countries to recognize Rwanda and Uganda because of their involvement in the M23 group.
“These people have already organized many meetings in the DRC that have not brought any answers,” activist Placide Nzilamba told Reuters.
DRC accuses Rwanda of supporting M23, although Rwanda denies this. The United Nations said in August that it had “irrefutable evidence” that Rwandan soldiers were fighting alongside the M23 group; The United States and the European Union have asked Rwanda to stop supporting the group.
The renewed fighting has led to conflict between the DRC and Rwanda. African leaders led by former Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta are at the center of the crisis.
Wednesday’s small meeting in Luanda was attended by DRC President Felix Tshisekedi and Rwandan Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta, but not Rwandan President Paul Kagame. There were no representatives from M23.
Kanyuka M23, speaking to AFP on Thursday, said the rebels had declared a “ceasefire” in April and believed it was still in effect. “If tomorrow at 6:00pm (16:00GMT), or in the morning, the government does not attack us, we will remain,” he said, adding: otherwise, “we are defending ourselves”.
“We are always ready to negotiate directly with the Congolese government to resolve the causes of conflict,” Mr Kanyuka told AFP.
The government in Kinshasa has refused to cooperate with the M23 group, which it calls a “terrorist group”, as long as it takes over the DRC.