DR Congo and rebels wrap up first round of peace talks

 In this file photo taken on December 19, 2021 An armored vehicle of the United Nations Mission in DR Congo (MONUSCO) escorts a truck carrying local Red Cross volunteers out of the Rhoo IDP site to bury bodies in the village of Dhedja, 60 kilometers from Bunia, the provincial capital of Ituri in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo. PHOTO/AFP

What you need to know:

  • The M23 group emerged out of an ethnic Tutsi Congolese rebellion that was once supported by Rwanda and Uganda.

The Kinshasa government has concluded the first round of peace talks in Nairobi with representatives of several armed groups operating in the country's violence-torn east, the Congolese presidency said Thursday.

The mineral-rich Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is struggling to contain dozens of rebel groups in the east of the nation, many of which are a legacy of two regional wars a quarter of a century ago.

Last week, the Kenyan presidency announced that Nairobi would host talks between the Kinshasa government and rebel groups.

In a message sent to journalists Thursday, the Congolese presidency said: "After 5 days of intense work, the peace consultations... ended this Wednesday, April 27, at least for the first stage of this process."

"Nearly 30 delegates representing the armed groups of Ituri, North and South Kivu took part in these exchanges" with emissaries of President Felix Tshisekedi, the message said, adding that more meetings would follow in the coming weeks.

The Nairobi talks began barely a month after the DRC was admitted to the regional East African Community (EAC), a seven-nation bloc with a single market allowing free trade and movement of citizens.

The leaders of Kenya, Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda and the DRC last week said they were also looking at establishing a regional force to neutralise rebel groups operating in the region.

All foreign armed groups in the DRC -- a nation of some 90 million people -- were urged to disarm immediately and return to their countries of origin.

In a separate statement released on Thursday, the Kenyan presidency "called on different armed groups in DR Congo to lay down their weapons and work with President Felix Tshisekedi in nurturing peace and stability."

"This is a process that will take into account all concerns," the Kenyan statement quoted Tshisekedi as saying.

But in a sign of the challenges facing the peace process, fresh clashes broke out last weekend between government troops and rebels belonging to a faction of the M23 group in eastern DRC, prompting Kinshasa to call for their expulsion from the Nairobi talks.

The M23 group emerged out of an ethnic Tutsi Congolese rebellion that was once supported by Rwanda and Uganda.

Millions of people died from violence, disease or starvation in the 1996-7 and 1998-2003 Congo Wars -- a conflict that enmeshed countries from around east and central Africa.

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