The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo said the unilateral ceasefire announced Sunday by the rebel group M23 does not go far enough.
M23 leader Bertrand Bisimwa has called on his fighters to lay down their arms and give the peace process, which stalled recently in Kampala, a chance.
Bisimwa said the Congolese army, known as the FARDC, must stop its advance in the current offensive and also return to the peace talks.
He said the rebels cannot disarm without a resolution to the concerns for which it began fighting.
But Congolese Information Minister Lambert Mende said the M23 must end its rebellion and present its fighters to the commission created in Kampala to demobilize them and return them to civilian life.
“It is not a matter of ceasefire. What we have convened in Kampala, witnessed by the facilitator, as well as the special envoy of the international community, are three things: one, the M23 must announce clearly, not a ceasefire, but the end of the armed rebellion they launched 20 months ago. Secondly, M23 must immediately put all its fighters at the disposal of the commission that was set up in Kampala to demobilize them, to disarm them, and help them to be back to civilian life,” he said.
Mende said the M23 must also agree to respect what he calls the “human rights and physical integrity” of our compatriots near Chanzu.
He said the Congolese government does not want another ceasefire from the M23 because it believes its army, the FARDC, could have defeated the rebels in the next three or four days.
Mende said, instead of humiliating the M23, the Congo government agreed to having the rebels commit themselves to a complete disarmament.
“We are somehow surprised to see that in their statement they are not talking about what had been convened on that issue. They should try to do what they said they were going to do, and we are giving them enough time now,” Mende said.
He said it is the decision of the international community and the Congolese government that the M23 must cease to exist as an armed group and transform itself into a political structure.
Mende said, until the most recent clashes, the M23 was the main threat to peace in eastern Congo and the whole Great Lakes region. He said the government decided to first wipe out the M23 before going after other rebel groups.
“We have other Congolese armed groups. They have to be destroyed, all of them. But, we decided to start with the most dangerous, that was M23. As soon as we finish them, as soon as they accept to disarm, to demobilize, to become a political group, we shall deal with FDLR, ADF-NALU and others. That is the program of the DRC and allies from the international community,” Mende said.
Bisimwa said his group will disarm after they sign an agreement with the Congolese government addressing the concerns for which the group began its rebellion.
“The problem of disarming ourselves will be done after we sign the agreement, and now we are negotiating that agreement. We can’t disarm ourselves without an agreement because we have to know what will happen to the problems which are the causes of the existence of movement,” he said.
He said the M23 launched its rebellion more than a year ago to, among other things, provide security for the people of eastern Congo.
“As you know, in the eastern part of Congo, there are many, many foreign groups who are killing and raping and we can’t continue to accept this. Secondly, you know we have many refugees outside in Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, and in Tanzania. We want those Congolese to be accepted as citizens of this country,” he said.
Bisimwa also said the people of eastern Congo have suffered for so long, and the M23 wants to give them an opportunity find jobs, build hospitals, roads, and schools.
The M23 had said it wanted its fighters to be granted amnesty. But, the Congolese government says it does not give amnesty to people who indiscriminately kill innocent civilians.
Bisimwa said the M23 is not involved in the killing of innocent people. He accused the Congolese government engaging in propaganda against the M23.
“We agree with the government of Kinshasa that we cannot give amnesty to people who kill other people. But, what about us? We didn’t kill anybody. And, you know, the government of Kinshasa used propaganda to show that the M23 doesn’t have any plan,” Bisimwa said.