GOMA — The Democratic Republic of Congo rebel movement M23 has reduced its delegation at peace talks in Uganda, reportedly to just two people. The movement says it has not abandoned the talks with the government but the two sides have not been talking.
M23 spokesman Vianney Kazarama said some of the delegation stayed in Kampala and some are visiting their families. He declined to comment on reports that since Thursday it consists of only two people, while 10 others have gone back to their headquarters in eastern DRC.
Maria Lange, a Congo researcher for International Alert, said she had heard about the delegates’ departure directly from the M23.
She said she understood from an M23 statement that it had reduced its negotiating team to two people. She said it does not mean the rebels have left the negotiations, but since they have only met the government team once in the past month, they may have decided it is not worth having a large delegation in Kampala.
The two sides have been talking to the Ugandan facilitator of the talks, but their meetings with him have been increasingly rare.
Lange thinks the two sides stopped talking to one another after the United Nations Security Council announced the imminent arrival of a new intervention brigade in DRC.
She said since the announcement, the government has been telling the rebels to sign the draft agreement it gave them in March. She added that any willingness to have an in-depth discussion seems to have diminished.
Earlier this month the government appeared to rule out reintegrating M23 officers in the army when the foreign affairs minister said the government would no longer allow persistent rebels to rejoin its ranks. In response, the M23 proposed a peace deal in which it would keep its armed forces for the next five years.
The intervention brigade will consist of more than 3,000 troops, from Tanzania, South Africa and Malawi, operating as part of the U.N. mission MONUSCO, but with a stronger mandate to attack the rebels.
The M23 has appealed to the South African and Tanzanian parliaments not to let their troops fight the M23.
Morale appears to be low among some of the M23’s estimated 3,000 combatants. MONUSCO reported Wednesday that 87 M23 fighters have surrendered to the mission since the brigade’s arrival was announced a few weeks ago.
The brigade is to start deploying in DRC at the end of this month.