Democratic Republic of Congo rebels continued to occupy strategic positions in the east of the country late Thursday, the day M23 militants were supposed to withdraw under a regional peace initiative.
Among these key sites is the town of Bunagana, on the Ugandan border, where a Ugandan contingent of the Community of East African States (EAC) regional force again delayed their deployment to ensure rebels’ withdrawal.
Early Thursday, an EAC delegation left Goma, the main city in the country’s east, led by the force commander, Kenyan General Jeff Nyagah.
In the afternoon, the entry of the Ugandan soldiers seemed imminent, but after attending a meeting between the EAC and the M23, General Nyagah indicated in the early evening, without explanation, that their arrival was now planned for Friday instead.
The deployment was initially scheduled for Wednesday.
A South Sudan contingent was also scheduled to turn up but has yet to arrive.
M23 rebels have captured swathes of territory in eastern DRC since reemerging from dormancy in late 2021 and have nearly encircled the trade hub of Goma.
Bunagana, a commercial crossroads on the Ugandan border, was the first major rebel capture, falling to the M23 in June last year. The rebels have since taken over other towns in the Rutshuru and Masisi regions.
The seven-nation EAC decided last June to create a military force, in addition to the UN force (MONUSCO), with the aim of bringing peace to eastern Congo, which has been plagued by armed violence for nearly 30 years.
The UN rights chief on Thursday decried the surging violence in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, with rampant sexual violence and more than 1,300 people, including over 100 children, killed since October.
The M23 insurgents, along with the Islamist-aligned Allied Democratic Forces, a notorious militia called CODECO and Zaire and Nyatura armed groups, are continuing to “perpetrate despicable attacks against the civilian population with complete impunity,” Volker Turk said in Geneva.
March 30 was supposed to mark the end of the withdrawal of “all armed groups,” according to a timetable adopted in mid-February by the EAC.
In addition, after several other unfulfilled announcements, a ceasefire should have come into effect on March 7, but has not been respected.
The M23 has announced its withdrawal from certain localities, but these announcements have been described as a “diversion” by the Congolese army.
DR Congo claims the M23 is backed by neighboring Rwanda.
Independent UN experts, the United States and several other Western nations have also concluded that the M23 is backed by Rwanda, though Kigali denies the accusation.