Exclusive-US official says eastern Congo ceasefire extended for two weeks

By Trevor Hunnicutt

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The parties to a ceasefire in parts of the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have agreed to a two-week extension, according to a senior U.S. official familiar with the developments.

“There has been a two-week extension to the ceasefire in eastern DRC,” according to the Biden administration official, who declined to be named.

Such a deal, which was not previously reported and could not be independently verified with the parties, would come ahead of Democratic Republic of Congo’s Dec. 20 general elections.

Congo and Rwanda’s governments could not immediately be reached after hours through their embassies in Washington.

The White House had previously announced a 72-hour ceasefire, starting on Monday, which they said applied to armed forces and non-state armed groups occupying certain key transit hubs in eastern DRC.

That initial ceasefire expired and was “broadly” adhered to, U.S. officials said. The new ceasefire, which the United States helped facilitate, was expected to apply to roughly the same areas and parties.

Congo accuses Rwanda of backing a rebel group known as the M23, which made a major comeback last year. Rwanda denies this.

Conflict and violence in the eastern DRC is among many concerns weighing on the country ahead of the elections, where other issues include the economy, corruption and mining in the huge Central African country of 95 million people.

Worsening attacks by armed groups have killed thousands and displaced nearly 7 million people, many of whom live in crowded camps without running water, power or reliable access to jobs and food. The United Nations has described it as one of the world’s biggest humanitarian crises.

“Having an election when there is active conflict is not in anyone’s interest,” the U.S. official said, adding that the United States expects elections to go ahead as planned next week.

(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Christopher Cushing)