M23 rebels, DRC begin two-week ‘humanitarian truce’Fri, 05 Jul 2024 18:31:30 GMT

A two-week humanitarian truce began between Kinshasa and M23 rebels on Friday in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s war-scarred east.  The United States announced the truce on Thursday, a day before it was due to begin, and expressed hope for a permanent ceasefire. The truce has not yet been publicly mentioned by anyone in DR Congo. Kinshasa accuses Rwanda of backing the Tutsi-led M23 rebel group which has seized swathes of eastern DR Congo in an ongoing offensive launched in 2021 — something Kigali denies. “The situation is calm,” said an administrative official in the Masisi region, echoing residents of North Kivu province interviewed by AFP, particularly in the Lubero area, the scene of recent fighting. “We pray to God that it stays that way,” the official added. The truce began at midnight local time on July 5 and will continue through July 19, the White House National Security Council announced Thursday. Supported by the Congolese and Rwandan governments, the truce envisages the voluntary return of displaced persons and unhindered access for humanitarian personnel to vulnerable populations, it said. The United States previously announced a “ceasefire” in December. It lasted about 10 days before fighting resumed after elections on December 20. “The humanitarian situation in North Kivu is dire with close to three million displaced people in the province,” it said.”The recent expansion of fighting in North Kivu has prevented humanitarian workers from reaching hundreds of thousands of IDPs in the area around Kanyabayonga and displaced more than 100,000 people from their homes,” it added.- ‘A crucial step’ – The M23 have almost completely encircled Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, killing scores of people and displacing hundreds of thousands more. “We welcome the measure, but we are asking purely and simply for a definitive withdrawal of Rwandan and M23 troops, as well as for the prosecution of the leaders of the rebellion,” Moise Hangi, an activist with the Lucha (Struggle for Change) citizens’ movement, told AFP in Goma. Last week the rebels seized more territory on the northern front, causing further displacement. There are already 2.8 million displaced people in North Kivu, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The European Union also praised the announcement on Friday.  “The EU praises efforts by the United States of America and strongly welcomes the commitment by both DRC and Rwanda, hoping this humanitarian truce will lead to a permanent ceasefire, and allow to build a sustainable political solution in the context of Luanda and Nairobi processes,” it said.Belgium’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hadja Lahbib, said on X, formerly Twitter: “This is a crucial step to alleviate suffering and protect millions of lives. We continue to support all mediation efforts for lasting peace.” The UN “MONUSCO” mission in the DR Congo also welcomed the truce “to which the various parties have subscribed (…), with the commitment of the United States”, on X. DR Congo’s mineral-rich east has been racked for 30 years by fighting between both local and foreign-based armed groups, going back to regional wars of the 1990s.