NAIROBI, KENYA —
The East African Community bloc has opened new talks on peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo, with representatives of major rebel groups attending for the first time. The DRC government, rebel group and local representatives are gathered in Nairobi to find ways to end the chronic conflict in the east of the country that has killed hundreds of thousands and displaced millions.
Speaking at the third Inter-Congolese dialogue, former Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta called on all parties to the conflict to open their minds to peace and said foreign armed groups must be disbanded.
“We are here as part of the East African Community to find a way and work with you to find peace. A peace that the Congolese have not seen for more than 20 years,” Kenyatta said in Swahili. “Some children have never set foot in a classroom because of the conflict, and some men never got the opportunity to farm their land to bring themselves out of poverty because of conflict.”
Officials in the meeting said some 53 rebel groups have accepted a ceasefire, including the M23 rebel group.
Kenyatta said foreign armed groups in the DRC must be disbanded and the sovereignty of the country respected.
Forces from neighboring Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda are currently in eastern Congo, chasing after rebel groups they accuse of trying to destabilize their countries.
The Kinshasa government has not been happy, especially with Rwanda, which it accuses of supporting M23, a claim denied by Kigali.
M23 has been fighting fiercely with the Congolese army and claims to be protecting the Tutsi communities against the government and other rebel groups.
Kenyatta said communities must accommodate each other to build a stable and peaceful nation.
“We have no choice but to live in peace with our neighbors and if we differ, it’s your responsibility to make sure that you get a solution and call them to a peace talk so that you can build your village, towns, region and country together,” Kenyatta said in Swahili.
The Congolese government said the peace talks are not about only the M23 rebel group but all other armed groups operating in the country.
Serge Tshibangu, special envoy to the DRC president, said this is the last time the government is engaging in talks with rebel groups. He warned rebel groups who are not part of this process that there is still time to join the peace process and that they didn’t want to be left behind and end up killed by regional forces down the line.
There have been previous peace talks between the government and rebel groups, but all have failed to bring peace.
The current talks are expected to end over the weekend.