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Congo police scatter protesters denouncing slow M23 rebel pullback

Congo police scatter protesters denouncing slow M23 rebel pullback
By Reuters
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By Djaffar Al Katanty

GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo - Police fired tear gas to disperse demonstrators in Congo's eastern city of Goma on Wednesday who were calling on 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 group, which launched a fresh offensive last year, was meant to pull out of recently captured positions. The deadline for this was Jan. 15, according to Congo's presidency.

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

The M23 have denied this and in turn accuse Congolese authorities of breaches of the agreement.

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

City authorities 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 rebel-driven 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 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 sparked a diplomatic crisis between Congo and neighbouring Rwanda.

Congo accuses Rwanda of fuelling the conflict by supporting the rebels - an accusation levelled also by Western powers and United Nations experts. Rwanda denies this.

Several protests have taken place in Goma over the past months, the latest directed at Rwanda and the ceasefire deal.

Complaints that U.N. peacekeepers have failed to protect civilians against long-standing militia violence spurred deadly protests in July.

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