DRC police disperse protest against slow M23 rebel pullback

 Police have fired tear gas to disperse demonstrators in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s eastern city of Goma. Protesters on Wednesday were calling for authori­ties to enforce an agreed withdrawal of M23 rebels from occupied territo­ry in the region.

Regional leaders brokered a ceasefire in November, under which the Tutsi-led M23 group – which launched a fresh offensive last year – was meant to pull out of recently captured positions. The deadline for this was January 15, according to the DRC’s presidency.

But M23 has been accused of flout­ing the deal and occupying territory elsewhere to compensate for with­drawals that critics have argued were mainly ceremonial. President Felix Tshisekedi made similar accusations on Tuesday.

The M23 has denied the claims and in turn accused DRC authorities of breaching the agreement.

Civil society groups called protests in Goma on Wednesday to denounce delays in implementing the M23 withdrawal.

City authorities had banned the march, but hundreds still took part, chanting and holding signs denounc­ing the East African Community (EAC), which set up a regional mili­tary force last year to end the unrest.

“We are asking EAC forces to leave the city and wage offensives where the M23 is,” said protester, Gloire Bagaya, 26.

“They should either go home or go the front line against the enemy.”

Police fired tear gas at the demon­strators and arrested about a dozen people, including three journalists, according to a Reuters’ reporter on the scene.

A local police commander denied that any arrests were made. The EAC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The M23’s latest offensive has dis­placed at least 450,000 people and set off a diplomatic crisis between DRC and neighbouring Rwanda.

The DRC has accused Rwanda of exacerbating the conflict by support­ing the rebels – an accusation levelled also by Western powers and United Nations experts. Rwanda has denied the claims. —News agencies

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