M23 rebels have announced that they are ready to disengage and withdraw territories they have occupied in eastern DRC after almost a year which ... has led to simmering tension between Rwanda president Paul Kagame and his DRC counterpart Félix Tshiskedi.
There was no photo op or final communiqué. In Nairobi, on the sidelines of the signing of the DRC’s accession treaty to the Community of East African States (EAC), Presidents Félix Tshisekedi, Paul Kagame, Yoweri Museveni and Uhuru Kenyatta met behind closed doors on 8 April. Very little information was released regarding the content of their discussions, which Tshisekedi’s entourage described as “frank but difficult.”
Although Kigali insists that the main purpose of this meeting was to discuss the DRC’s integration into this new regional bloc, several diplomatic and presidential sources in Kinshasa have stated that the M23’s resurgence was at the heart of these discussions.
Dialogue with the rebels
This issue, which had already been addressed during Tshisekedi and Kagame’s meeting on 24 March in Aqaba (Jordan), has returned to the forefront in recent weeks due to the increased clashes between members of this rebel government and the Congolese army in the Rutshuru territory, North Kivu. Although militarily defeated in 2013, the M23 has shown a surprising resurgence of activity since November 2021. Although the reasons for this remain unclear, suspicions have been raised that the return to hostilities is linked to support from Rwanda.
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Following the resumption of fighting between members of the M23 and the Forces Armées de la RDC (FARDC) on 27 March, as well as Kinshasa’s accession to the EAC two days later, discussions between Tshisekedi and Kenyatta to agree on a quadripartite summit that will be held in conjunction with the treaty-signing ceremony intensified.
According to several diplomatic sources and some people close to Tshisekedi, the heads of state agreed on the need to find a non-military solution. The same sources confirm that Tshisekedi has agreed to hold discussions with members of the M23.
This dialogue could begin “within two weeks”, but it is not yet known at which level of government it will be held. The issue of repatriating M23 members still living in Rwanda and Uganda is – for the moment – being managed in Kinshasa by the Mécanisme National de Suivi de l’Accord-Cadre d’Addis-Abeba, which is headed by Claude Ibalanky.
The fact remains that holding a potential dialogue with the rebels raises certain concerns, particularly within various embassies and consulates, at a time when a new disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) programme has just been launched. In any case, the issue is being closely followed in Kinshasa as well as in Nairobi, where the UN special envoy for the Great Lakes Region, Huang Xia, is based. According to our information, Bintou Keita, head of Monusco, also met with Tshisekedi a few days before the Congolese President’s trip to Nairobi.
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