Democratic Republic of Congo’s M23 rebels on Friday began withdrawing from some territories they had seized in recent offensives as part of what one of the group’s leaders termed a goodwill gesture in a ceasefire brokered by East African regional leaders.
The rebels handed over positions they had occupied around Kibumba, some 20 kilometres north of the Congolese city of Goma, to commanding officers of the East African Community regional force.
“It is a gesture of goodwill that the M23 will make today,” Colonel Imani Nzenze, one of the military leaders of M23, said during the ceremony.
“It is in the name of peace and a gesture that is part of the recommendations resulting from the mini-summit of heads of state held in Angola in November 2022,” he added. “We hope that the government of Kinshasa will seize this opportunity.”
The government of Congo was not immediately available for comment.
The M23 is a Tutsi-led rebel group which the government of Congo, Western powers including the United States and Belgium, and reports from a United Nations expert group say is supported by neighbouring Rwanda.
A recent report by a group of U.N. experts found “substantial evidence” of a “direct intervention of the Rwandan Defence Force in Congo,” according to copy seen by Reuters on Thursday.
Rwanda denied all involvement in the M23’s resurgence, but the accusations have led to a major diplomatic crisis in the region.
A ceasefire agreement reached by regional leaders in Angola called for the rebels to withdraw from recently seized positions, and for thousands of displaced people to be allowed to return to their homes. Some 450 000 people have been forced to flee since March due to the recent fighting.
“I thank the M23 leadership for complying with the Luanda decision of 23 November 2022, which called for the M23 to leave all the places it controls,” Major General Jeff Nyaga, commander of the regional force, said during the ceremony.
“We also call on the people who fled from Kibumba; now that the regional force has just deployed here, let them return to their homes,” Nyaga said.