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M23 says it is ready to ‘withdraw’ in eastern DR Congo, but clashes are reported

The armed group, which was absent from the latest peace talks, has requested a meeting with regional mediators due to the continuation of the conflict.

The M23 rebel group says it is ready to withdraw from occupied territory in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and will support regional peace efforts despite not being represented at the talks.

The Tutsi-led armed group, widely seen as a proxy for Rwanda – a claim the neighboring country denies – is “ready to start withdrawing and withdrawing,” M23 spokesman Lawrence Kanyuka said in a statement on Tuesday.

However, the AFP news agency and local sources reported that clashes between Congolese troops and M23 fighters continue near Goma, in North Kivu province.

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“The M23 lends its support to regional efforts to achieve lasting peace in the DRC,” Kanyuka said, also confirming the group’s commitment to the ceasefire agreement reached by the leaders of neighboring countries in Angola last month.

The M23, which is leading an offensive in eastern DRC and which Kinshasa describes as a “terrorist” movement, had previously said it could not cooperate with measures agreed in talks from which it was excluded.

On Tuesday, Kanyuka also requested a meeting with the regional East African Community (EAC) force to discuss modalities and renewed his request for a meeting with the mediator, former Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Kenyatta facilitated the latest round of peace talks aimed at ending the conflict, which concluded in Kenya on Tuesday.

Representatives of some 50 armed groups active in the volatile and mineral-rich eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo attended, but the M23 was absent. The rebel group was excluded after it failed to withdraw and disarm before the ceasefire deadline.

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Al Jazeera’s Malcolm Webb, reporting from Nairobi on Tuesday, said the other armed groups present at the talks denounced the presence of foreign-backed fighters in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which they see as the main problem.

For decades, neighboring Uganda and Rwanda have made huge profits from the DRC’s minerals, Webb explained.

“[DRC’s armed groups] Let’s just say that unless the issue of foreign armed groups and foreign-backed armed groups is resolved, and unless the Congolese military can really protect their communities, there is no way they will lay down their arms,” Webb said.

Kenyatta echoed the sentiments. “The problem is foreign groups getting involved in Congo and leaving destruction,” he said at the talks, adding that the groups should “leave Congo in peace.”

The M23 first rose to prominence 10 years ago when it captured Goma, before being ousted in 2013. But it has made a big comeback this year, mounting several offensives and gaining ground despite pushback from Congolese and regional forces.

The two sides have blamed each other for instigating attacks in the eastern region. The Democratic Republic of Congo accused the M23 on Monday of massacring 272 civilians last week, which it denied.

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The continuing fighting has left tens of thousands of people displaced, says the UN.

It has also sparked diplomatic tensions with neighboring Rwanda, which DRC and United Nations experts accuse of backing the M23. Rwanda denies it.

Peace talks aimed at ending the conflict are due to continue in January.

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