“Fragile lull” in eastern DRC

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Months of fighting and rising tension across eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is on hold with “a fragile lull”, including improvement in relations with neighbouring Rwanda, in place the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) heard yesterday (Wednesday, 19 April).

The region is plagued by violence emanating from multiple armed groups, including the rebel M23 force, fighting against government troops, backed by the UN mission MONUSCO as part of its protection-of-civilians mandate according to the world body.

Diplomatic relations between Kinshasa and Kigali soured over whether the resurgent M23 rebel movement, which originally grew from a faction of former DRC army officers, is supported by Rwanda – a charge denied in Kigali. Cross-border incidents earlier this year led to risk of escalation and confrontation, the Council heard last month from Huang Xia, UN Special Envoy for the Great Lakes.

“On the military front, a fragile lull settled in eastern DRC. Days pass without major clashes,” he told a UNSC sitting.

“Between the DRC army and the March 23 Movement, a fragile ceasefire seems to be holding. The deployment of the East African Community Regional Force (ESCRF) continues. Undiplomatic exchanges between Kigali and Kinshasa decrease”, he continued.

He stressed “serious risks remain” and withdrawal of M23 fighters from areas recently occupied in the east, “remains partial.”

Xia highlighted two diplomatic tracks working to produce a negotiated settlement inside and outside the borders of DRC, the so-called Luanda Process and the Nairobi Process.

“A negotiated political solution, called for by more and more voices, is slow to materialise.

“The risk of renewed fighting remains real” he added, while local and foreign armed groups in the restive east “spread terror and fuel instability.”

Calling the “social and humanitarian consequences of this situation disastrous” they fuel “a seemingly endless cycle of tensions between communities and proliferation of hate speech.

Some 600 000 Congolese are displaced in North Kivu, while 38 000 more became refugees between October last year and February.

“Tensions persist between Rwanda and the DRC. Trust between the two countries seems to be at an all-time low”, he said.