M23 accepts in principle cessation of hostilities in DRC but reserves the right to respond to attacks

Archive – Displaced children in Kishanga, in the Congolese province of North Kivu – NRC/TOM PEYRE-COSTA

The Congolese rebel group of the March 23 Movement (M23) has admitted in principle the beginning of a cessation of hostilities as of this Friday in the North Kivu province against the Kenyan and Ugandan Army and forces of the East African Community (EAC), although it has warned that it reserves any right to respond to any attack.

As part of a summit in Luanda, the Angolan capital, to advance the normalization of diplomatic relations, DRC and Rwanda agreed to a cessation of hostilities as of this Friday, as well as a withdrawal of M23 two days later from recently conquered areas in the province.

The M23 has been accused since November 2021 of carrying out attacks against DRC Army positions in North Kivu, seven years after the parties reached a truce. UN experts have accused Uganda and Rwanda of supporting the rebels, although both countries have denied this.

The conflict has also led to a diplomatic crisis between the DRC and Rwanda, which Kinshasa accuses of supporting the M23, although Kigali has rejected these claims and has accused its neighbor of allegedly supporting the rebel movement of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).

In a statement released Friday, the M23 recalls that it declared a unilateral cease-fire on April 1 of this year, months before the very serious upsurge of violence in the province of North Kivu, and that «all parties involved in the conflict» signed a binding agreement «recommending a cease-fire that was never respected by the DRC».

However, the M23, in its note, «accepts again the cease-fire recommended by the heads of state», although it asks the DRC government to respect this cease-fire. Otherwise, the M23 reserves «the full right to defend itself and to protect the civilian population against any violation of the agreed cease-fire».

The M23 accuses the Congolese government of committing «genocide» in the region and warns that it «will not stand idly by and witness the slaughter of Congolese citizens».

Once again, the M23 requests a meeting with the mediators and «to discuss a lasting peace in the country» and «reiterates its commitment to a direct dialogue with the Government of the DRC as the only way to peacefully resolve the ongoing conflict».

Meanwhile, the EAC deployment commander, General Jeff Nyagah, has warned that his forces are now ready to intervene the moment they sense a breakdown in the ceasefire. «This weekend, all our forces will be ready, mainly those of Kenya, and the rest of the logistical apparatus and war material will arrive,» he said in declarations reported by the Actualité portal.

«The M23 must cease hostilities as of November 25. We will work with the Congolese army and we will respond to any provocation, but it is important to favor dialogue», added the general, who reminded the group of its obligation to withdraw from the zones currently under its control, including the nine of the 14 territories occupied in Rutshuru.