M23 rebels agree to withdraw from DRC after US pressure on Rwanda

M23 rebels agree to withdraw from DRC after US pressure on Rwanda
Credit: Clara Padovan / MONUSCO / Flickr

On Thursday, M23 rebels reportedly agreed to withdraw from east Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and stated that they will support any regional peacemaking efforts. The report comes after United States Secretary of State Anthony Blinken ramped up the pressure this week on the Rwandan government to withdraw its alleged support for the rebels.

With a resurgence caused by the Tutsi-led M23 rebel group – believed to be a proxy group for Rwanda – which has recently led to the death of hundreds of civilians, the United States increased diplomatic pressure on Rwandan President Paul Kagame.

Efforts which may have directly or indirectly contributed to the announcement on Thursday by the M23 spokesperson that the rebels would lend their "support to the regional efforts to bring long-lasting peace in the DRC," while also requesting a meeting with the regional East African Community (EAC) and the former Kenyan President and mediator, Uhuru Kenyatta.

In a phone call this week, Blinken had demanded the Rwandan government end "any external support to non-state armed groups in the DRC, including Rwanda’s assistance to M23."

An uneasy agreement

Secretary Blinken expressed strong support for regional mediation and dialogue led by Angola and the East African Community. He also shared "deep concern about the impact of the fighting on Congolese civilians who have been killed, injured and displaced from their homes,” the statement read.

Furthermore, Blinken called out the resurgence of hate speech and incitement of violence against Rwandaphone communities in the DRC, evoking "the real and horrible consequences of such rhetoric in the past" – in reference to the 1994 genocide against ethnic Tutsis in Rwanda.

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The Rwandan Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta responded to the phone call on Twitter, stating that “differences in understanding of the issue remain, and [a] wrong and misguided approach of the international community continues to exacerbate the problem.” Once again, Biruta pushed back again on the allegation that Rwanda is assisting the rebels.

Despite the agreement of M23 rebels to withdraw from eastern DRC, clashes were reported near Goma, North Kivu by AFP and other local sources. On Thursday, the UN confirmed the arbitrary execution of 131 civilians as a result of the insurgency.

Peace talks aimed at ending the conflict were concluded in Kenya on Tuesday, but M23 was notably absent.

The Tutsi-led armed group had previously said it could not cooperate with measures agreed upon at talks after it had been excluded. The latest statement by the M23 suggests they will respect the outcome of the talks.

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