All armed groups operating in eastern DR Congo have been asked to “lay down their arms voluntarily” and join peace talks due next week in Nairobi, according to a statement by the East African Community (EAC) released on Friday, November 18.
Presidents Felix Tshisekedi of DR Congo, Evariste Ndayishimiye of Burundi and Uhuru Kenyatta, the facilitator of EAC-led peace process, met on Thursday to deliberate on the evolving security situation in eastern Congolese provinces.
Tshisekedi, Ndayishimye and Kenyatta met after fighting intensified between the Congolese army (FARDC) and the M23 rebels, who are advancing towards Goma, the capital of North Kivu province.
The rebels are said to have captured key towns near Goma, in addition to Bunagana, a border town they claimed in July after days of heavy fighting with FARDC.
The meeting took place after Kenyatta, Kenya’s former president, had competed a week’s visit in DR Congo, during which he held talks with Tshisekedi, met diplomats, UN mission leadership and community leaders in the country’s eastern provinces.
During Thursday’s meeting, the statement said, Tshisekedi, Ndayishimye, the EAC chairperson, and Kenyatta reiterated the decision of the three meetings of regional leaders held in Nairobi, “calling on all armed groups to lay down their arms voluntarily and pursue their interests through the avenues provided for under the EAC-led Nairobi process.”
They also “expressed concern at the deteriorating security and humanitarian situation unfolding in eastern DRC,” calling for humanitarian support to civilians.
For over two decades, eastern DR Congo has been the sanctuary of over 120 local and foreign armed groups, who are responsible for atrocities and terrorist activities, according to the United Nations.
The EAC countries agreed to deploy troops to eastern DR Congo in order to restore peace.
Kenyan troops are already in Goma and the Ugandan army said on Thursday that its troops were in final preparation for deployment under the EAC regional force.
Some of the most notable foreign armed groups include the FDLR from Rwanda, RED-Tabara from Burundi, and ADF from Uganda.
Some analysts believe the insecurity in eastern DR Congo will not be brought to an end if the Congolese government does not work with the three countries to uproot the three militias from their bases.
Meeting of regional army chiefs
The EAC statement said a meeting of army chiefs from the EAC member states took place on November 8 in the Burundian capital Bujumbura.
It added that Ndayishimiye, Tshisekedi and Kenyatta supported the regional army chiefs’ recommendation, “demanding the withdrawal of M23 to the pre-April 2022 positions, to give way to a ceasefire followed by deployment of the EAC regional force in the vacated areas and ultimate disarmament.”
The presidents and the EAC facilitator reaffirmed the regional leaders’ commitment to “immediate cessation of hostilities and restoration of peace and security in eastern DRC.”