Democratic Republic of Congolese rebels M23 on Tuesday declared a unilateral ceasefire ahead of a second round of peace talks with the DRC government, increasing hope for an end to their nine-month-old insurgency.
This announcement brings relief to the process considering the group had last week stated it would not take part in the talks if the Kinshasa government does not agree to a cease fire.
“We’ve been for peace … Today we’re declaring that we’re in a ceasefire,” Francois Rucogoza, M23’s executive secretary told the press in Kampala, Uganda’s capital.
He affirmed that “Even if the government refuses to sign a ceasefire agreement we’ll continue with the negotiations,”
There are fears in the international community that the conflict could escalate into another regional conflict in a country that has suffered nearly two decades of turmoil.
The Kinshasa government of Joseph Kabila said it did not have much assurance in the rebel ceasefire.
Lambert Mende, government spokesman spoke with pessimism following the announcement saying “We don’t think we can see this as a concession from people who don’t tend to do what they say. We’ll wait and see … We want to know why?”
The rebels have also proposed that the United Nations should send an representative to help them convince the government to agree to a conclusive truce.
“We want Kinshasa to sign a ceasefire with us and if a U.N. special envoy can help achieve that, we think that that’s good,” M23 spokesman Bertrand Bisimwa told the journalists in Kampala.
The M23 insurgents agreed to pull out of Democratic Republic of Congo’s eastern city of Goma last month under regional pressure – but a first round of negotiations that followed fell apart amid threats and accusations.
A UN group of experts report last year accused neighbouring Uganda and Rwanda of supporting the rebel campaign, a charge both countries vehemently deny.
M23, named after a 2009 peace deal for eastern Congo, at first said it had taken up arms because the Kinshasa government failed to honour its part of the agreement, under which rebel fighters were supposed to get integrated into the army.
The resulting conflict has left hundreds of thousands of ordinary Congolese citizens displaced from their homes.
However, it later broadened its goals to include the “liberation” of all of Congo and the removal of President Joseph Kabila.