Kinshasa (Agenzia Fides) - New demonstrations took place yesterday, February 13, in Goma to denounce the inaction of the force of the member countries of the East African Community (EAC) to stop the advance of the M23 rebels.
University students took to the streets of the capital of North Kivu (east of the Democratic Republic of Congo) to peacefully deliver a petition to the spokesperson for the province's military governor.
Unlike last Monday, the demonstrations did not result in looting or violent acts (see Fides, 6/2/2023). The East African Community Regional Force (EACRF) has the task of overseeing the withdrawal of the main guerrilla movement active in North Kivu, the M23, as stipulated in the agreements reached last November. But, like MONUSCO (UN Mission in the DRC), the force of the Kenyan-led East African states was soon accused by the local population of inaction, if not complicity with the guerrillas.
Since the end of 2021, the M23 has conquered several towns in North Kivu approaching Goma, causing the flight of hundreds of thousands of inhabitants and raising strong tensions among the residents of the capital, especially now that the fighting has moved closer to the city of Sake (see Fides, 10/2/2023). In 2013, the M23 had been forced to lay down its arms in the face of an offensive led by the Blue Helmets strongly supported by a special South African-led reinforcement task force which had inflicted serious losses on the guerrilla movement.
Now the situation is different. The force sent by the EAC has a different task: it must not forcibly impose the withdrawal of the M23, but only verify its withdrawal. Furthermore, the Kenyan-led regional force is currently made up of just 900 men (compared to the three thousand for the well-armed task force 10 years ago), while the M23 militiamen are well equipped and, according to the UN, are supported by Rwanda.
The demands of the inhabitants of Goma, after their disappointment with their own military and the blue helmets of MONUSCO, are now directed against the EAC soldiers.
The latter has now announced a three-stage withdrawal of the M23 from the DRC. From February 28 to March 10, the rebels will have to leave Kibumba and Rumangabo, as well as the towns they have recently taken on the Sake-Butembo axis; from March 13 to 20, the central areas of North Kivu and the surroundings of the Virunga Park. Finally, from March 23 to 30, the M23 will have to leave Rutshuru, Kiwanja and Bunagana. (L.M.) (Agenzia Fides, 14/2/2023)