On December 22nd, the March 23 (M23) rebel group announced it would withdraw from Kibumba, a town in the North Kivu province in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (D.R.C.). The group is named after an agreement signed by the D.R.C. government on March 23th, 2009, which was supposed to integrate the Tutsis into the D.R.C.’s army, although the M23 claims this is yet to happen. The group signed a peace agreement with the Congolese government in 2013, however, fighting has begun to increase since 2021, after Rwanda gave the rebels weapons, allowing the M23 to control areas in North Kivu. The Congolese government wants to end the conflict with the M23. This will require the East African Community (E.A.C.) to be successful in disarming the group and Rwanda to encourage the group to stop fighting.
After the M23 withdrew from Kibumba, The East African reported Lawrence Kanyka, a spokesperson for the M23, said, “we hope that the government of Kinshasa will seize this opportunity with both hands and also work to establish peace in our country.” According to the Kigali Daily News, Jeff Nyagah, the commander of the East African Community Regional Force (E.A.C.R.F.), said “we also encourage the leadership of M23 to continue demonstrating that goodwill that they have shown today.”
In June 2022, the E.A.C. created the E.A.C.R.F. to help the end conflict between the D.R.C. government and the M23, and other rebel groups in the country. The E.A.C.R.F will send peacekeepers to the D.R.C., and the peacekeepers will work with the Congolese military to rebels. However, there are concerns about peacekeepers’ ability to succeed and further escalations in conflict.
Rwanda is supportive of the M23 because there is a large Tutsi population in the country. Additionally, the M23 has smuggles gold and other minerals from the D.R.C. to Rwanda. Rwanda has a large influence on the group, and should convince the M23 to stop fighting against the Congolese government. It is possible this can occur, as Rwandan President Paul Kagame has supported the M23 agreeing to a ceasefire, and withdrawing from the territories they control.
It is more likely Rwanda will convince the M23 to stop fighting if the D.R.C. stopped supporting the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (F.D.L.R.), another rebel group in the region. The group includes Hutus who supported the 1994 Rwanda genocide. The F.D.L.R. has planned a number of attacks in Rwanda and also kidnapped soldiers.
In November, Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi met with leaders from other countries in the E.A.C. at a summit in Luanda, Angola. At the summit, the E.A.C. asked the M23 to withdraw from all areas it controlled, which would allow for 1,000 Kenyan E.A.C.R.F. troops to control the areas instead. Although the M23 has not withdrawn from all the places it controls, it is believed the Luanda Summit caused the group to decide to leave Kibumba. There are concerns more than 1,000 peacekeepers would be needed to control North Kivu. However, it is possible more peacekeepers could be sent to North Kivu, as the International Crisis Group reported the E.A.C planned to send between 6,500 to 12,000 peacekeepers to the D.R.C.
The M23 withdrawal from Kimbuba makes ending the conflict with the Congolese government possible. Rwanda must also encourage the M23 to stop fighting, and this can occur if the D.R.C. also encourages the F.L.D.R. to stop attacks against Rwanda.
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