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Ex-Kenyan leader visits key DR Congo town amid rebel crisis

Former Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta arrived in eastern DR Congo’s main city Goma on Tuesday as fresh clashes with M23 rebels erupted just to the north, sending thousands fleeing. Troops in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) were fighting M23 fighters in Kibumba, 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of Goma, security officials and local residents said. The M23 recently seized large swaths of territory in North Kivu province, displacing tens of thousands of people in its advance. Kibumba is considered one of the last obstacles to the rebels before Goma, a commercial hub of a million inhabitants on the Rwandan border. On Tuesday afternoon, rumors of an approaching M23 sent a new wave of people fleeing to the Kanyaruchinya IDP camp, south of Kibumba. About 40,000 people are currently in the camp, according to its leader. A security official who requested anonymity said people started fleeing after seeing the soldiers themselves retreating towards Goma after clashes with M23 rebels. The military governor of North Kivu, General Constant Ndima, urged the population to remain calm on Tuesday evening. “I want to reassure you… The loyalist forces contain the enemy on the heights of Kibumba,” he told reporters. The crisis has damaged relations between the DRC and its small central African neighbour, Rwanda, which Kinshasa accuses of supporting the militia. Uhuru Kenyatta, a mediator for the seven-nation East African Community (EAC), arrived in Goma on Tuesday and visited Kanyaruchinya. He told reporters on Tuesday evening that the stories he had heard were “heartbreaking”. “I can’t ignore what I saw,” Kenyatta said. “I must say to all parties: you cannot negotiate in the face of a human catastrophe.” – ‘De-escalation’ – Kenyatta’s visit to the DRC is the latest in a series of diplomatic offers aimed at defusing the crisis in the impoverished country’s volatile east. The former president landed in the Congolese capital Kinshasa on Sunday for talks, following a visit by Angolan President Joao Lourenço. The EAC also called for a “peace dialogue” in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, on November 21. Additionally, the bloc has agreed to send a peacekeeping mission to eastern DRC. Kenyan troops arrived in Goma over the weekend as part of this operation. On Monday, Kenyatta urged armed groups to lay down their arms and return to the negotiating table. “There is nothing that can be won with the barrel of a gun,” he told reporters. On Tuesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he discussed the situation with Rwandan Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta on the sidelines of the G20 meeting in Indonesia. “I underscored the deep concern of the United States over the continued 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 – Biruta, for his part, tweeted that Rwanda is committed to regional diplomatic mechanisms to bring peace to eastern DRC, as well as seeking a political solution to the crisis. More than 120 armed groups roam the region, many of which are a legacy of regional wars that erupted around the turn of the century. The M23 – a predominantly Congolese Tutsi group – first rose to prominence in 2012 when they briefly captured Goma before being driven out. But the rebel group returned in late 2021 after years of dormancy, saying the DRC had failed to honor its promise to integrate its fighters into the army, among other grievances. He captured the strategic town of Bunagana on the Ugandan border in June. In recent weeks, the rebels have also won a series of victories against the Congolese army, closing in on Goma. The DRC expelled the Rwandan ambassador at the end of October as part of the resumption of the M23 offensive. Despite official denials from Kigali, an unpublished report for the UN, consulted by AFP in August, mentioned Rwanda’s involvement in the M23. Rwanda accuses the Congolese government of colluding with Hutu militants who crossed the border after the 1994 Rwandan genocide. hbm-at/eml/kjm

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