GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo — Rebels in eastern Congo announced a cease-fire on Thursday in fighting with government troops hours before a visit to the conflict-plagued zone by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and World Bank President Jim Yong Kim.
"We've decided to announce this cease-fire to allow His Excellency Ban Ki-moon to visit Goma as he promised," Amani Kabasha, political spokesman for the M23 rebel group, told Reuters following several days of clashes in the east near Goma on the Democratic Republic of Congo's border with Rwanda.
At least 20 people have been killed this week in three successive days of fighting between the Congolese army and M23, a Tutsi-dominated insurgency that has demanded political concessions from President Joseph Kabila's government.
The renewed combat after six months of relative calm underlines the challenges facing one of Africa's most conflict-ridden regions, which will receive $1 billion in fresh development funds pledged by the World Bank.
Ban and Kim, who will spend a few hours in Goma on Thursday meeting local and U.N. officials, say the World Bank funding will contribute to peace in the volatile Great Lakes region.
But Ban has said the $1 billion to help finance health and education services, hydro-electric projects and cross-border trade is contingent on countries in the region honoring a peace deal brokered by the United Nations.
U.N. experts have accused Rwanda of sending troops and weapons across the border to support the M23 last year. Rwanda denies the accusation.
M23 spokesman Kabasha demanded that Congolese President Kabila also sign a formal ceasefire. "We're very happy that Ban Ki-moon is coming to Congo, so he can see the real problems are deeper than what they appear," he added.
Talks between M23 and Congo's government in Uganda have stalled. M23 is made up of members of a previous Tutsi-dominated rebellion who integrated into the army after a 2009 peace deal.
But they deserted en masse last year and have stepped up training in preparation for the deployment of a U.N. brigade with a mandate to neutralize armed groups across the region.
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