Democratic Republic of Congo’s M23 rebel group on Friday said it wants to talk directly with the government after Congo’s president and other African leaders signed a ceasefire deal aimed at stopping attacks by the militia.
Leaders of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi and Angola met this week in Luanda to find a solution to the conflict in eastern Congo, which has forced thousands to flee their homes.
They signed an agreement saying they would enforce a ceasefire from Friday, and said regional troops would intervene against the M23 if it did not withdraw from its positions.
However, the M23 was not part of the discussions and found out about the statement on social media, its spokesperson said.
“We thank the regional leaders for their efforts to find a peaceful solution to the current conflict,” said M23 spokesperson Lawrence Kanyuka.
“Give us direct negotiations with the government to resolve the root causes of conflict that are producing all these wars here,” he said. M23 leader Bertrand Bisimwa also issued a statement to the same effect.
Congo’s government has ruled out negotiating with the M23, which it classifies as a terrorist group. Asked about this at a press briefing on Thursday, foreign minister Christophe Lutundula said: “It won’t happen. I can reassure you on behalf of the government and the President of the Republic.”
The M23 said that it had already declared a unilateral ceasefire in April and that it is Congo’s army which is initiating attacks. However, fighting has continued since then, and the M23 has captured several towns in Congo’s east.
When it formed in 2012, the group was the latest in a series of ethnic Tutsi-led insurgencies to rise up against Congolese forces. It was pushed out of Congo in 2013 after seizing large swathes of territory, but has had a major resurgence this year.
Congo and U.N. experts have said the group is backed by Rwanda, which Rwanda denies.