Fresh talks are taking place in the backdrop of heavy fighting between M23 rebels and government forces, which have led to unprecedented civilian displacement in the region.
The East African Community (EAC) is set to broker a new round of peace talks this week on the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), amid heavy fighting between rebels and government forces.
Fighting in the region has escalated in recent months as M23 rebels captured key cities in the province of Kivu as they clashed with the armed forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC) and advanced towards the key town of Goma, near the border with Rwanda.
Kenya’s former president Uhuru Kenyatta is mediating on behalf of the EAC, a seven-state regional bloc headquartered in Tanzania. A joint EAC force was set up earlier this year to try and end the unrest.
Kenya’s current president, William Ruto, also headed to Kinshasa on Sunday to hold talks with his Congolese counterpart, Felix Tshisekedi.
Ruto said on Monday that East African troops would “enforce peace on those who are hellbent on creating instability”.
Since Kenyan troops arrived in eastern DRC on November 12 as part of the EAC mission, M23 rebels have been advancing towards the city of Goma and capturing territory in the region.
Clashes were reported with Congolese forces in Mwaro, a village about 20 kilometres north of Goma, which was briefly captured by the group in 2012. The M23 accused the Congolese army of conducting “barbarian bombings” in heavily populated areas.
A week later, fighting broke out in Kibumba, another village near Goma, as well as near the Ugandan border.
More than 100 local armed groups exist in the region, which has been mired in conflict for decades. Foreign and local armed groups have also fought among each other for control of valuable mines in the resource-rich region.
The renewed fighting in the DRC’s eastern region has resulted in many casualties, as well as mass displacement.
According to the UN, more than a million people have been displaced by fighting since the beginning of the year, pushing the number of those displaced to more than 5.5 million.
Formed in 2012, the March 23 Movement (M23) succeeded in seizing large swathes of territory that year, before being driven out by Congolese and UN forces into Uganda and Rwanda the following year.
A peace deal signed in 2013 was meant to lead to the integration of many of its fighters into the Congolese army.
The group, made up mostly of Congolese Tutsis, resumed fighting in November 2021. Among other grievances, they claim that the then central government failed to honour a promise to integrate its fighters into the army.
Congolese officials, locals and analysts say the rebel group is backed by Rwanda, with Tshisekedi, the Congolese president, warning earlier this year that the conflict could escalate into a full-blown war “if Rwanda’s provocation continues”.
Rwandan president Paul Kagame denies his country is behind the M23. Instead, it has accused Kinshasa of colluding with the FDLR, a former Rwandan Hutu rebel group established in the DRC after the 1994 genocide of mainly Tutsis in Rwanda.