Ex-Kenyan leader visits key city in DR Congo amid rebel crisis

Ex-Kenyan leader visits key city in DR Congo amid rebel crisis


Kenya’s former President Uhuru Kenyatta arrived in Goma, the capital of eastern DRC, on Tuesday as fresh clashes with M23 rebels erupted just to the north, forcing thousands to flee.

Troops in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) fought M23 fighters in Kibumba, 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of Goma, security officials and local residents said.

The M23 recently seized tracts of land in North Kivu province, displacing tens of thousands of people as it advanced.

Kibumba is considered one of the last obstacles for the rebels before Goma, a commercial center with a million people on the Rwandan border.

On Tuesday afternoon, rumors of the M23 approaching sparked a fresh wave of people fleeing to Kanyaruchinya refugee camp south of Kibumba.

According to the director, around 40,000 people are currently in the camp.

A security official, who asked not to be identified, said people began fleeing after seeing soldiers retreating to Goma after clashes with M23 rebels.

North Kivu’s military governor General Constant Ndima late Tuesday urged people to remain calm. “Let me reassure you… Loyalists are keeping the enemy in check on the heights of Kibumba,” he told reporters.

The crisis has soured relations between the DRC and its smaller Central African neighbor Rwanda, which Kinshasa has accused of supporting the militia.

Uhuru Kenyatta, a mediator from the seven-nation East African Community (EAC), arrived in Goma on Tuesday and visited Kanyaruchinya.

He told reporters late Tuesday that the stories he heard were “heartbreaking.”

“I can’t ignore what I saw,” Kenyatta said. “I have to say to all parties: You can’t negotiate in the face of human catastrophes.”

– “De-escalation” –

Kenyatta’s visit to the DRC is the latest in a round of diplomatic efforts to defuse the crisis in the impoverished country’s volatile east.

The former president landed in the Congolese capital Kinshasa for talks on Sunday after he was paid a visit by Angolan President Joao Lourenco.

The EAC has also called for a “peace dialogue” in Kenya’s capital Nairobi on November 21.

In addition, the bloc has agreed to send a peacekeeping mission to eastern DRC. As part of this operation, Kenyan troops arrived in Goma over the weekend.

On Monday, Kenyatta called on armed groups to lay down their arms and return to the negotiating table.

“There’s nothing you can gain by barreling a gun,” he had told reporters.

On Tuesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he discussed the situation with Rwanda’s Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta on the sidelines of the G20 meeting in Indonesia.

“I underscored the deep concern of the United States at the ongoing violence in eastern DRC and called on Rwanda to take active steps to facilitate de-escalation,” he said in a tweet.

– Return of the Rebels –

For his part, Biruta tweeted that Rwanda is committed to regional diplomatic mechanisms to bring peace to eastern DRC and find a political solution to the crisis.

Over 120 armed groups roam the region, many a legacy of regional wars that broke out around the turn of the century.

The M23 – a predominantly Congolese Tutsi group – first gained notoriety in 2012 when they briefly took Goma before being expelled.

But the rebel group returned in late 2021 after years of dormancy, claiming the DRC had broken a promise to integrate its fighters into the army, among other things.

It captured the strategic town of Bunagana on the Uganda border in June. In recent weeks, the rebels have also had a string of victories against the Congolese army and are closing in on Goma.

The DRC expelled Rwanda’s ambassador in late October amid the renewed M23 offensive.

Despite official denials from Kigali, an unpublished report for the UN submitted to AFP in August indicated Rwanda’s involvement in the M23.

Rwanda accuses the Congolese government of collaborating with Hutu fighters who fled across the border after the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

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