Congo and Rwanda accuse each other of undermining the peace process in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Fight in the mountains.
KAMPALA taz | “The war has long since started again,” says Bertrand Bisimwa, political leader of the rebels of the M23 (Movement of March 23) of the taz. He calls from his headquarters in the Congolese border town of Bunagana, right on the barrier to Uganda. “For two days, our positions have been attacked,” he explains, “by a coalition of white mercenaries and government soldiers.”
There has actually been a ceasefire in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo since mid-December. The heads of state of the East African Community (EAC)which includes Congo’s President Felix Tshisekedi, in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania on December 15.
On timetablewhich was agreed between Rwanda and Congo in Angola’s capital Luanda in November, already provided for the M23 rebels to gradually withdraw from their positions and hand over their areas to an EAC peacekeeping force – soldiers from Kenya have been sent for this purpose.
But now the shots are fired again. On the field, the M23 reports fighting in the Masisi district near the small villages of Luseke and Mulindi, at the foot of the Nyamulagira volcano. The warring parties bombard each other with mutual accusations and blame on the internet.
The situation has hardened, and analysts and diplomats fear a collapse in the peace process that the East African states have been trying to engineer for Congo since the M23 regained control of areas last year.
Congo’s government – which has accused Rwanda of supporting the M23 with arms and troops from the start, a UN investigation has since confirmed – accused Rwanda’s government in a Jan. 17 Explanationto “sabotage” the peace roadmap.
The M23 has not completely withdrawn from the agreed positions in the village of Kibumba, some 30 kilometers north of Goma and just on the border with Rwanda, but has only hidden in the surrounding hills, the government said. The last sentence of the press release can be read as a declaration of war: Congo is “ready for any eventuality to defend itself with any means.”
Rwanda’s government promptly published a counter-statement. In it she accuses Congo of not fulfilling its part of the agreement: Congo’s army would continue to arm local militias and the Rwandan Hutu rebels of the FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda) in order to fight the M23 together with them.
However, the agreed timetable stipulates that all militias should be disarmed, not just the M23. The stationing of Romanian mercenaries within the Congolese special forces is a “clear sign that the Congo is preparing for war and not for peace,” according to Rwanda.
“It’s all very bizarre,” says the rebel leader
“It’s all very bizarre,” M23 President Bisimwa comments on the situation to the taz. He says the agreed withdrawal from the strategically important positions in the border town of Kibumba and also in the town of Rumangabo, just a few kilometers to the north, where the largest army camp in eastern Congo is located, has taken place as planned. “But why should we withdraw when the Congolese government is arming militias and the population to fight against us?”
Bisimwa insists that the M23 sit at the table in the peace talks. So far, Congo’s government has strictly refused to negotiate directly with the “terrorists”.
After all, the M23 has now met directly with Kenya’s ex-president Uhuru Kenyatta, who led the peace negotiations between Congo’s government and Congolese militias in Kenya’s capital Nairobi on behalf of the EAC. The M23 hasn’t been there so far because Congo’s government refused.
Kenyatta has now pledged to M23 to push for direct dialogue, according to a press release after the meeting in Kenya’s port city of Mombasa on January 12. “If this doesn’t happen, there is a great risk that they will force war on us,” said M23 leader Bisimwa.