Uganda and Rwanda rebels on notice as M23 loses war
With M23 rebels defeated and seemingly out of options, the UN and African forces led by South Africa and Tanzania are turning their guns on Uganda’s ADF and Rwanda’s FDLR as efforts are stepped up to pacify volatile eastern DR Congo.
President Museveni was one of the leaders from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) who yesterday gave the M23 rebel group “five days” to renounce rebellion and sign a peace deal with the Congolese government.
The announcement came as the Congolese government triumphantly declared that it had achieved total military victory over M23 rebels, having ousted the group from all its strongholds along the border with Uganda and Rwanda.
However, these two countries are much more interested in what the UN and African Brigade will do about other rebel groups operating in DR Congo, particularly Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) and Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).
The communiqué signed at the end of the joint summit appeared to assure Ugandans and Rwandans, as it urged the UN mission (MONUSCO), and the African intervention brigade comprising South African, Tanzanian and Malawian forces “to maintain its enforcement mandate and capability with regard to uprooting all negative forces in the eastern DRC.”
Indeed the joint summit, which was attended by nine presidents out of the 20 countries represented, urged SADC and ICGLR member states “to hand over negative forces to their countries of origin within the spirit of the UN framework for peace, security and cooperation for DRC and the region.”
Negative forces are understood to include the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), ADF and FDLR, among ten or so other armed groups hiding in the vast forests of eastern DR Congo.
Lambert Mende, the Congolese government spokesperson, told BBC on Monday that Congolese Special Forces, with the help of UN forces, had defeated the rebels after a week of heavy fighting.
“We can say that it is finished. But you never know. Those who escaped can come with hit-and-run operations; so, we have to end everything politically, so that we are sure our people can sleep quietly without any threat,” Mende said.
Mende’s scepticism captured the cautious celebration in Congo and the region, as observers realised the military gains would be short-lived if Kinshasa doesn’t reach a political compromise with her adversaries, or if Rwanda and Uganda’s security concerns are ignored.
Lt Col Paddy Ankunda, the UPDF spokesperson, said it was imperative to root out other rebel groups in the eastern DRC for the stability of the region.
“Any action that is aimed at bringing peace in eastern DRC whether by the UN or any other force, we say thank you,” Ankunda told The Observer yesterday.
The Congolese army spokesman, Colonel Olivier Hamuli, was more emphatic, telling the BBC yesterday that they would pursue other armed groups in eastern DRC if they didn’t lay down their arms.
“We now speak to other armed groups to surrender because if they don’t want to, then we will disarm them by force,” Hamuli said.
Unlike M23, the UN and African forces are, however, likely to find it tougher dealing with older rebel groups such as ADF and FDLR, who have established themselves in DR Congo for more than 10 years. The heavily-forested area they operate in won’t make the job any easier.
A 3,000-strong African intervention brigade to disarm and neutralise armed groups was approved by the UN earlier this year - in addition to the UN’s 18,000-member peacekeeping force, MONUSCO.
The minister of state for Foreign Affairs, Henry Okello Oryem, told The Observer yesterday that M23 rebels had no other option but peace talks.
“At this level, M23 has been defeated and it is in their interest to conclude the peace talks,” Oryem said.
Apart from Rwanda president Paul Kagame’s unexplained absence at the summit where he was represented by the Foreign Affairs minister, the collective decision in South Africa shows the differences that had formed between SADC and ICGLR regarding the approach to the conflict in eastern Congo might be ebbing.
SADC, to which DRC belongs, has always preferred swift military action against the M23 rebels, while Uganda and Rwanda favoured a more holistic approach that takes care of other rebel groups, particularly those fighting Kampala and Kigali regimes.
Amid these differences, Uganda and Rwanda have been accused of extending financial and military support to the M23 rebels, which didn’t pose a security threat to either Kampala or Kigali.
With the two groupings now finding common ground, the M23 are running out of options while ADF and FNRL are on notice. M23 is yet to declare whether or not it has given up the fight.
The Cape Town meeting, which was attended by leaders and representatives from 20 countries, including presidents Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Jacob Zuma of South Africa, Joseph Kabila of DRC, Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania, Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, Joyce Banda of Malawi, Hifikepunye Pohamba of Namibia, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Motsoahae Thomas Thabane of Lesotho, noted that agreement had been reached on all the 11 issues under discussion in the Kampala talks, and that the parties would sign a deal after the M23 makes a public declaration renouncing rebellion.
“Five days after this is done, then a formal signing of the agreement would be done,” the communiqué noted.
The joint summit, presided over by President Museveni who chairs the ICGLR, and President Joyce Banda of Malawi, who chairs SADC, commended DR Congo government forces and the United Nations-backed intervention brigade for recapturing M23 strongholds and restoring government control in recent weeks.
The joint summit received and adopted the report of the Joint SADC/ICGLR ministerial meeting on the implementation of the framework for peace, security and cooperation for the DRC and the region.
It said a technical support committee had begun work, developing “benchmarks and indicators of progress” for international and regional parties to meet in implementing an overall peace and security agreement for the Great Lakes region.
The 11 points discussed in Kampala, on which agreement is said to have been reached include, release of prisoners of the National Congress of the Defence of the People (NCDP), a political militia formed by Gen Laurent Nkunda, transformation of M23 into a political party, return of properties and resettlement of the rebels, and national reconciliation and justice.
Others are, the Congolese government undertaking social economic reforms, looking into disaster areas, and implementation of a 2009 peace agreement that called for the integration of all fighting groups into the national army.
Agreement was also reached on amnesty for the rebels, security arrangements and reintegration of the rebels into the army and their communities. UPDF spokesperson Lt Col Paddy Ankunda said he was confident the M23 rebels would sign the agreement as agreed in Cape Town.
“Where we have reached, the agreement will be soon. There is nothing left; in fact we are discussing the framework for implementation,” Ankunda said.
Oryem said Kampala was pushing for a political solution to end conflict in the mineral-rich nation.
Genesis of M23 rebellion
In April 2012, soldiers of the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), a rebel movement that had signed a peace agreement with DRC mutinied against the government over non-payment and breach of agreement, leading to the formation of the M23.
On July 6, 2012, M23 rebels attacked and took the town of Bunagana, less than a kilometre from the border with Uganda. Some 600 DRC troops fled across the border and took refuge in Uganda.
The rebels issued a statement that they would cease their offensive if the government agreed to holding peace talks with them. The United Nations condemned the rebel attacks after an Indian peacekeeper was killed in the conflict.
On November 20, 2012, M23 rebels signalled their intentions when they took control of Goma, a provincial capital in eastern Congo with a population of one million people.
After repelling an ill-organized government counterattack and making some further gains, M23 agreed to withdraw from Goma in December 2012 as dialogue commenced in Uganda.
On February 24, 2013, leaders of 11 African nations signed an agreement designed to bring peace to eastern DRC. Among the signatories were Rwanda and Uganda, both of whom had been accused of aiding the rebellion, a charge the two nations deny.
The deal, brokered by the United Nations, called on the DRC to implement security reforms, work to strengthen its government, and increase cooperation with its neighbours. It also called for neighbouring countries to help structurally reform certain DRC organisations and refrain from interfering with DRC internal affairs.
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Photo link: Julien Harneis