DR Congo’s M23 rebel group on Friday said it was ready to observe a ceasefire called for earlier this week by regional leaders, but warned it would defend itself and civilian populations if they came under attack from Congolese forces and their allies, including the genocidal FDLR militia. In a statement issued Friday, the rebels, who have in recent months taken large parts of DR Congo’s North Kivu Province, also called for a meeting with the lead mediator, former Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta, the designated facilitator under the East African Community-led process. A mini-summit of regional leaders held in Luanda, Angola on Wednesday, that attracted the presidents of Angola, Burundi and DR Congo, as well as Rwanda’s Foreign minister Vincent Biruta (who represented President Paul Kagame) and Kenyatta called for a ceasefire and withdrawal of M23 from areas they’ve recently captured. M23 has, however, since ruled out withdrawing and instead called for direct talks with Kinshasa, which it has accused of reneging on previous peace agreements. In their latest statement, the M23 also made reference to a unilateral ceasefire they declared back in April. “The M23 accept the ceasefire as recommended (by) the Heads of State; however, request the DRC Government to respect the said ceasefire, otherwise, the M23 reserves itself the full right to defend itself and to protect the civilian populations against any violations of the agreed ceasefire,” the statement reads in part. It adds, “The M23 Movement is requesting a meeting with the mediator and the facilitator in order to discuss the matter of its concerns in a way to restore lasting peace in our country.” The rebels also “tremendously” condemned what they describe as “implementation of the ongoing planned genocide by the DRC Government and its allies.” “Consequently, it shall not just stand by and witness the slaughtering of Congolese citizens. The M23 reiterates its undertaken commitment to a direct dialogue with the DRC Government, the only path to peacefully resolve the ongoing conflict.” However, Kinshasa has ruled out negotiations with the M23, with the Foreign minister Christophe Lutundula insisting on Thursday, “it won't happen. I can reassure you on behalf of the government and the President of the Republic.” A meeting of regional leaders on the sidelines of COP27 in Egypt earlier this month called for inclusivity in the inter-Congolese talks to help put an end to decades of violence in eastern parts of the vast country. Meanwhile, reports emerged Friday evening that clashes had resumed between M23 rebels and Congolese forces and their allies. DR Congo is home to more than 130 local and foreign armed groups.