Goma – There were violent clashes in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on Tuesday between Congolese soldiers and the M23 rebel movement, local sources said, as the rebels said they were ready to disengage.
Congolese troops engaged the rebel group outside Bwiza, some 40 kilometres (25 miles) north of provincial capital Goma, according to the sources, as the violence sent local people fleeing and brought the neighbouring town of Kitchanga to a standstill.
The latest unrest in the conflict-wracked country comes a week after an attack blamed on M23 slightly further to the north in eastern North-Kivu province left around 300 people dead, almost all civilians.
The group denied being behind the massacre, blaming “stray bullets” for the deaths of just eight civilians.
On Tuesday the group issued a statement saying it was ready to countenance a withdrawal from territory it had seized – a key demand made by Luanda at peace talks last month with neighbouring Rwanda which saw a truce agreement unlocked.
“The M23 reiterates its readiness to the direct dialogue with the DRC government in order to find a lasting solution to the root causes of the conflict in the Eastern DRC,” the group spokesman Lawrence Kanyuka said.
He said the M23 group “was ready to start disengagement and withdraw”.
The ceasefire was scheduled to take effect on November 25, to be followed by a pullout from seized territory by the M23 two days later.
This did not happen, but Kanyuka stated that the M23 group would “maintain” the ceasefire “even though it was not represented” at the peace summit.
He added the group wanted a meeting with the East African Regional Force to discuss ceasefire implementation.
Kinshasa accuses Rwanda of providing M23 with support – something that UN experts and US officials have also pointed to in recent months.
But Kigali in turn has accused the DRC of collusion with the FDLR – a former Rwandan Hutu rebel group established in the DRC after the genocide of the Tutsi community in 1994 in Rwanda.