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M23 withdraws from key town in northeast DR Congo

Children from families displaced by the M23 conflict sit in the Kibati stadium participating in a Christmas activity of the Un Jour Nouveau organisation in Kanyarushinya on Dec 24, 2022. (GUERCHOM NDEBO/AFP)

GOMA, DR Congo – The regional force of the East African Community (EAC) on Friday officially took control of Kibumba, a town about 20 km from Goma, capital of the province of North Kivu in the northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), which was once occupied by the rebels of the March 23 Movement (M23).

M23's withdrawal from Kibumba came after a joint conference held in Kibumba between the M23, officials of the EAC regional force led by Kenyan General Jeff Nyagah and some members of the Joint Verification Mechanism of the Great Lakes region.

Since last month, the M23 rebellion has taken control of several territories northeast of Goma after intense fighting with the Congolese army, which has forced thousands of civilians to seek refuge

On behalf of the authorities of the region, General Nyagah congratulated the M23 on this peaceful withdrawal, calling the movement to do the same in the other positions it still occupies in this part of the country to accelerate the peace process.

"We can say now that Kibumba is completely secure because we are here. We therefore call on the residents of Kibumba to return to their homes," he said, affirming the determination of the regional force to fulfill its mandate in respect of the sovereignty and the Constitution of the DRC.

In a press release issued Friday morning, the M23 spoke of a gesture of "goodwill" following the conclusions of the meetings held in Kibumba on Dec. 12 and 22 between the M23, EAC's regional force, and the ad hoc verification mechanism.

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"This gesture of goodwill made in the name of peace is among the recommendations resulting from the Mini Summit of Heads of State held in Luanda, Angola on Nov. 23, 2022. We hope that the government of Kinshasa will seize this opportunity with two hands and will also work to bring peace to our country," the M23 statement read.

On Nov 23, a mini-summit in Luanda, the capital of Angola, in which Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi also took part, set a timetable that demanded an immediate ceasefire and above all an ultimatum asking the M23 rebels to leave the occupied areas in order to allow a diplomatic solution to the ongoing crisis.

Since April 2022, the EAC has carried out a two-track approach that includes facilitating inter-Congolese dialogue and deploying a regional force in the eastern DRC to deal with armed groups who refuse to join the dialogue process.

This position of Kibumba, which is seen as the gateway to Goma, will be officially handed over to the EAC regional force. The latter will in turn set up its position in this area, according to the press release from M23.

READ MORE: Hundreds flee as Congo's M23 rebels near key city of Goma

This announcement comes a few days after the UN Security Council on Tuesday unanimously adopted a resolution to lift notification requirements for arms shipments to the DRC.

Since last month, the M23 rebellion has taken control of several territories northeast of Goma after intense fighting with the Congolese army, which has forced thousands of civilians to seek refuge.