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June 11, 2012

DRC Government Rules Out Talks With Rebels

by Nick Long

GOMA - The Democratic Republic of Congo’s government has ruled out negotiations with rebel groups. It has also accused Rwanda of failing to stop Congolese rebels recruiting and resupplying in Rwandan territory.

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s Prime Minister Matata Ponyo Mapon has just completed a fact finding tour of the country’s most troubled province, North Kivu.
 
Speaking to the media in Goma Sunday he said the government would use force to dislodge the rebels of the M23 movement from what he described as their last holdout - a range of hills on the borders of North Kivu, Rwanda and Uganda.
 
The prime minister says the Congolese armed forces were all set to defeat the whole enemy force when they were astonished to see that the enemy force was increasing. A neighboring country’s territory, he says, had been used for training and infiltration.
 
The prime minister says he met with rebel deserters at the UN military base in Goma who told him they were recruited and trained in Rwanda before being sent to join the M23 rebels.
 
DRC Information Minister Lambert Mende says several hundred M23 combatants have been recruited recently in Rwanda.
 
Mende says the DRC government condemns the inactivity - or worse - of the Rwandan authorities in the face of these serious infringements of the DRC’s peace and security.  
 He also says the M23 had formed alliances with other armed groups, including the Rwandan FDLR rebels who are operating on Congolese territory.
 
DRC officials say they are going through diplomatic channels to address concerns with Rwanda.
 
While the government is vowing to end the rebellion by military means - there have been at least three ceasefires since fighting with the M23 began in April. Mende hinted that the current truce called last week is strategic to allow the army to resupply with ammunition.
 
But Ernest Kyaviro, a spokesman for the governor of North Kivu province, says the ceasefire is not popular with the local Congolese. 
 
“They don’t like it at all, because it has given the enemy the time to reinforce and fight again," said Kyaviro. "It has been made two times and the consequence was to complicate things. They don’t like it - they have told it to the minister openly, in Rutshuru. It can be sad for them to see another truce coming.”
 
A spokesman for a civil society group in North Kivu Omar Kavota says they also oppose the ceasefire because there is a risk that the M23 would escape from their holdout and restart the war elsewhere.  
 
But whether or not civilians support a ceasefire and a military solution depends on who you talk to. Eric Muhindo is a teacher from the village of Mushaki - the scene of recent fighting.
 
He says his community wants a ceasefire because they are threatened and they are tired of the war. Muhindo adds that if the government thought of the people, it would talk to the rebels to find a solution which addresses the origins of the problem.
 
Most of the people in Mushaki are Kinyarwanda speakers, from the community that has provided the M23 with most of its recruits.
 
But Minister Mende emphasised that Kinyarwanda speakers are by no means the only people who have joined ethnic militias in Kivu.
 
He says that in each of Kivu’s communities there are youths who get together and say they are going to form a militia to protect their people, and even if their real aims are pillage and rape, they always claim they are protecting their community.
 
This, Mende says, is why the prime minister had called a meeting of community leaders in Goma, to urge them to discourage tribal militias.
 
The M23 are former Congolese soldiers - once aligned with a Rwandan-backed rebel group known as the CNDP.  The mutineers were integrated into the army in a 2009 peace deal. But indications the Congolese government was going to arrest their commander, Bosco Ntaganda, on an International Criminal Court warrant prompted the rebellion in April.