M23 Says They Are Ready To ‘Disengage’ But Must Be Heard First

The rebels were ordered to withdraw to positions they held before an offensive began in October, but a spokesman says they have not been included in the process.

The March 23 (M23) rebel movement, currently occupying large swaths of territory in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, says it is ready to “disengage” in compliance with an order given by regional leaders last month if they are included in talks on peace in the region. 

The rebels previously made a statement suggesting they could comply with the withdrawal order earlier this week, but they said the full message of that Dec 6 statement had not been understood.

“People have read the heading of our message but they did not get to the end of it. We are ready to start disengagement. Even I myself, I have already assembled my belongings. We are ready. We should be told where we are to go and what to do there. We are ready. Meanwhile, we are going to leave this land in the hands of the Forces Democratiques pour la Liberation du Rwanda (FDLR) so that they come and kill our brothers”, declared Willy Ngoma, one of the M23 spokespersons at a meeting in Rutshuru Centre on Dec 7.

During the meeting, he sent a message to the facilitators of the Nairobi and Luanda processes, former Kenyan head of state, Uhuru Kenyatta and Angolan leader Joao Lourenco respectively, reiterating their willingness to disengage from the territory they currently occupy.

“We are ready to leave. Meanwhile, they should listen to us. We are calling on the facilitators. When two persons are fighting, you cannot give an ear to only one person. You must listen to the two. We are sending a message to Uhuru Kenyatta and to the president of Angola. They must listen to us, even if we were not in Nairobi. We want peace but the government does not want to dialogue with us. If we leave here, with whom would we dialogue?”, the M23 spokesperson said.

In the meantime, the Luanda mini-summit had already fixed the modalities and a calendar for the de-escalation process. The leaders of the sub region, including the Congolese, Burundian, Angolan and Rwandan presidents had decided on a ceasefire for November 25, 2022. This measure was expected to be followed two days afterwards by a withdrawal of M23 for zones it conquered. If the rebels failed to do so, the regional East African Community force, which is being deployed in North Kivu, would intervene to dislodge them.

The meeting held one week after the Kishishe massacre and two days after the call by the United States Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken on President Paul Kagame of Rwanda to stop support to the groups the DR Congo describes as “terrorists”.

On the ground, fighting between the M23 and the DR Congo army, was reported in Bwiza on 6 Dec, about forty kilometres from Goma, the North Kivu provincial capital.

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Chief Bisong Etahoben

Chief Bisong Etahoben is a Cameroonian investigative journalist and traditional ruler. He writes for international media and has participated in several transnational investigations. Etahoben won the first-ever Cameroon Investigative Journalist Award in 1992. He serves as a member of a number of international investigative journalism professional bodies including the Forum for African Investigative Reporters (FAIR). He is HumAngle's Francophone and Central Africa editor.

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