Africa leaders urge pullout of armed groups in east DRC by March 30
(FILES) In this file photo taken on January 06, 2023 East African Regional Force (EACRF) soldiers guard Rumangabo camp after the meeting between EACRF officials and M23 rebels during the handover ceremony at Rumangabo camp in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. African leaders called on February 17, 2023 for all armed groups to withdraw from occupied areas in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, the regional EAC bloc said after a mini-summit in Addis Ababa.
They also recommended an "immediate ceasefire" by all armed groups and the resettlement of people displaced by the violence in the restive east of the country, the East African Community said on Twitter. (Photo by Guerchom Ndebo / AFP)
(AFP) - African leaders called on Friday for all armed groups to withdraw from occupied areas in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo by the end of next month, the regional EAC bloc said.
The heads of state "directed withdrawal of all armed groups by 30th March 2023 from occupied areas", the East African Community said on Twitter after a mini-summit in Addis Ababa.
They also recommended an "immediate ceasefire" by all armed groups and the resettlement of people displaced by the violence in the mineral-rich east of the country, it added.
The seven-nation EAC is leading mediation efforts to end the fighting, which has driven vast numbers of Congolese from their homes and exacerbated regional tensions.
Friday's talks took place on the eve of a two-day African Union summit in the Ethiopian capital, and ahead of a meeting of the pan-African bloc's Peace and Security Council later Friday to discuss the Congo crisis.
An EAC military force deployed late last year in the east, where a resurgent rebel group known as the M23 has seized swathes of territory.
The M23 re-emerged from dormancy in late 2021, claiming that the government in Kinshasa had ignored a pledge to integrate them into the army.
The Tutsi-led group subsequently won a series of victories against the army and occupied chunks of territory in the province of North Kivu, including much of the region north of its capital Goma.
The DRC accuses its smaller central African neighbour Rwanda of backing the M23, a charge that Rwanda denies.
UN experts, the United States and several other Western states agree with the DRC, however.
- 'Protracted' humanitarian crisis -
At Friday's meeting, the regional heads of state also called for the repatriation of Congolese refugees in Rwanda and Uganda, and recommended the creation of an EAC "monitoring & evaluation mechanism" in the east of the DRC.
The EAC had issued similar calls for a ceasefire and the withdrawal of all armed groups, including foreign entities, at an extraordinary summit in Burundi on February 4.
The United Nations said Friday that more than $600 million was needed this year to help a million people who have fled DR Congo and the African countries where they have sought refuge.
The humanitarian crisis gripping the giant central African country is "one of the most complex and protracted" in the world, the UN refugee agency said.
Militias have plagued the eastern DRC for decades, many of them a legacy of regional wars that flared during the 1990s and the early 2000s.
Some 5.5 million people were displaced within the country as of last November, according to the UN agency.
In addition, more than one million had left for a neighbouring country, with more than 500,000 seeking shelter in Uganda alone.
Meanwhile, Amnesty International said in a report on Friday that M23 rebels raped more than 60 women and girls during attacks in eastern DRC in November.
The rights group said it had gathered testimonies from 35 victims and eyewitnesses and described the acts as "war crimes".
They "could constitute crimes against humanity", it added in a statement.
The DRC is one of the poorest countries in the world, where two thirds of the population of about 100 million people live on under $2.15 a day, according to the World Bank.
© Agence France-Presse