M23 Rebels Call for Ceasefire as African Leaders Prepare for Summit

The leader of the M23 rebel group, operating in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s historically restive eastern region, issued a statement today calling for a cease-fire with the central government.  Bertrand Bisimwa’s call comes as government forces continue to make gains against M23 strongholds and as African leaders prepare to meet in South Africa to discuss a way forward in the Great Lakes Region.

UN-backed talks between the DRC government and M23 rebels, being held in Uganda, were said to have stalled in October.  The major point of disagreement was reported to be the desire by M23 negotiators to secure an amnesty for their members.  The DRC government is likely wary of issuing such an amnesty given M23’s history, having spawned from demobilized rebels who were integrated into the DRC security forces in 2009 as part of a previous peace agreement.

United Nations peacekeeping forces have also been active in attempting to protect civilians from the conflict.  Concerned by the persistence of the conflict in the country’s east earlier this year, the United Nations approved the activation of a reaction brigade in DRC in response to the expanding crisis in the country’s east.  The activities of this brigade, authorized to take more offensive action, have also been seen as a reason for government government victories against the M23 group.

DRC’s eastern region, notably the Kivu region, has seen persistent conflict for years now due to various issues, including its ethnography.  M23’s members are primary ethnic Tutsi, and have been reported to received assistance from Rwanda and Uganda, though both countries have denied this.  M23 is also only the latest in a series of rebel groups, which the DRC government has continually attempted to strike deals with and otherwise integrate into its security forces.

This perpetual conflict in Africa’s Great Lakes Region prompted a meeting between the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), which led to an agreement in February to continue to coordinate and seek lasting peace in the region.  Another summit organized by the SADC and ICGLR is scheduled to begin tomorrow.

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