The UN Secretary-General has urged leaders of the M23 rebel group in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to respect a ceasefire agreement due to come into effect on Tuesday.
In a statement released by his Spokesperson, António Guterres welcomed the international and regional efforts which took place last week, led by the President of Angola and African Union (AU) Champion for Peace and Reconciliation, João Lourenço, with the Mouvement du 23 Mars (M23).
Eastern DRC is home to multiple armed groups, including the rebel M23 force, which has been fighting a major campaign against Government troops in recent months, supported by the UN mission there, known by its French acronym MONUSCO, which puts the protection-of-civilians at the centre of its mandate.
Years of violent unrest
Hundreds of civilians have been killed during years of violence at the hands of armed groups, including women and children. More than 600,000 have reportedly been displaced in eastern North Kivu, amidst a territorial advance in recent months by M23 and other groups.
According to news reports, the European Union announced on Saturday that it would set up a “humanitarian aid bridge” to deliver aid to eastern DRC.
In response to what the head of MONUSCO described in the Security Council last December as a “dramatically” deteriorating security situation, and concerns over allegations from the Government of DRC that neighbouring Rwanda has been giving support to M23 – a charge it strongly denies – peace talks have been taking place in Kenya and Angola’s capital, Luanda.
A ceasefire was announced last Friday, in compliance with the decisions of the African Union Peace and Security Council on 17 February in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
‘Unfettered humanitarian access’
“The Secretary-General urges the M23 to respect the ceasefire in order to create conditions for its full and effective withdrawal from all occupied areas in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo”, the statement released on Monday reads, “in line with the decisions of the Luanda Mini-Summit held on the 23rd of November 2022.”
The Secretary-General made clear he “condemns all violence against civilians and renews his call on all Congolese and foreign armed groups to lay down their weapons and disarm unconditionally.”
Mr. Guterres also urged all parties involved in fighting to ensure “immediate and unfettered humanitarian access to the affected population”, ensuring that civilians are protected, paying respect to international humanitarian law.
End hate speech
“He also calls on all actors to refrain from hate speech and incitement to violence.”
The Secretary-General reaffirmed the UN’s support to the peace process which continues in the Angolan and Kenyan capitals, through his Special Representative in the DRC, and his Special Envoy for the Great Lakes region.
He added that the UN stands ready “to step up efforts to bring about peace and security” in the restive eastern DRC region.
Ceasefire must be shown ‘rigorous respect’: Keita
On Saturday, the head of MONUSCO, Bintou Keita, concluded a mission to the region, with a press conference in the largest city there, Goma.
She outlined that the Mission is maintaining a robust presence in M23-controlled areas to protect civilians and continues to provide support to the Congolese armed forces, in strict compliance with the Human Rights Due Diligence Policy”, said UN Spokesperson, Stéphane Dujarric.
“Ms. Keita echoed the calls for a rigorous respect of the ceasefire that was announced on Friday and urged the M23 to withdraw from the occupied areas and disarm unconditionally.”
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of UN News.