M23 rebels surrender Kibumba as EAC regional force vow to free supply routes

KDF troops on patrol in parts of Goma in DR Congo. [Courtesy KDF]

The East Africa Community Regional Force in DR Congo has taken over Kibumba area, one of M23 rebels' strongholds.

In a statement on Friday, the force led by Maj Gen Jeff Nyagah said they took over the area located 30kms North of Goma town, after the exit of M23 in compliance with the Luanda mini-summit communique of November 23, 2022.

The takeover marks a significant milestone in the ongoing efforts to restore peace and stability in Eastern DRC where the rebel group has been waging war against the government, resulting in deaths and displacement of a large number of people.

"The M23, has begun withdrawing from areas under their control in total compliance with the Luanda mini-summit communique dated 23rd November, 2022. The withdrawal and subsequent takeover by the East Africa Community Regional Force (EACRF) in areas under their control is a positive indicator that the agreed upon strategy of restoration of normalcy in Eastern DRC are on course, challenges therein notwithstanding," read part of the statement.

According to the statement, EACRF reiterated a need for an elaborate mechanism for an orderly withdrawal of M23 from all areas under their control to the original position within Sabinyo; an immediate cessation of hostilities by all armed groups, but most importantly, respect for the Sovereignty and territorial Integrity of the DRC.

"We appreciate the commendable efforts by the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo, FARDC, the Ad Hoc Verification Mechanism and other state and non-state actors for seeing us through the process. This is the beginning of a critical process of resettling Internally Displaced Persons, opening of Main Supply Route - RN2, Protection of Civilians and facilitation of humanitarian assistance to the local populace," the statement read.

In June this year, the East African Heads of States okayed the deployment of a regional force to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In a meeting held at State House Nairobi, the heads of states instructed the newly-constituted East African Community Force to deploy immediately and in cooperation with the military and administrative forces of the DRC to stabilise and secure the peace in the country.

The regional force drawn from the EAC member states was to partner with Congolese Army to defeat the armed M23 rebels, work with humanitarian agencies to ensure aid reaches the population and participate in the disarmament, demobilisation and community recovery and stabilisation programme.

Kenya last month deployed its KDF troops for the six-moth mission expected to end in May next hyear. While Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda committed to deploy two battalions each, South Sudan committed to deploying one battalion with Tanzania giving her commitment to join the peace efforts later.

EACRF in the statement further noted that it was concerned of the dire situation faced by the Congolese people living as internally Displaced Persons, the ongoing violence against civilians and human rights violations, which are unprecedented.

"The regional force shall not stand aside and watch as the people of DRC get killed. We condemn and offer our condolences on the alleged killing of innocent civilians in Bwiza, Kitchanga and Kishishe. EACRF remains committed to its mandate, respects the international humanitarian law and the DRC constitution and her sovereignty. Such atrocities must be fully investigated and those found culpable be held to account," the statement read.

According to the force, Gumba, Bunagana, Rutshuru and Kiwanja remain key economic supply routes and continued closure denies the Congolese people socioeconomic prosperity.

While vowing to ensure the routes remain open to allow free movement of goods and services into and out of Goma, EACRF said it benefits no one to see a region locked out of its potential.

"We are determined to conduct operations in strict compliance with international humanitarian law and other conventions. We appreciate the complex nature of the operating environment but our zeal and determination remain undeterred," the statement read.