Tension is brewing again in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) after a few weeks of a lull in fighting was interrupted by hostilities between government and rebel forces late this past week.
It is feared that the fresh fighting could lead to the collapse of ongoing talks between the government and M23 rebel movement in the Ugandan capital Kampala with both sides claiming to have been attacked first.
Congolese forces briefly attacked rebel positions at Kanyamahoro, several miles north of the provincial capital Goma, in the wee hours of Tuesday, resulting in an exchange of fire, days after the 14-day moratorium aimed at allowing peace talks to progress had expired.
Just a few days before, the rebels had reportedly shot at an unarmed United Nations helicopter for violating their zone.
It is now feared that both the government and M23 could be on the verge of a falling-out as the talks seem to be making little progress.
The leader of the rebels, Bertrand Basimwa, issued a statement saying his fighters could not sit back as their positions were being attacked. Military spokesperson Col Olivier Hamuli confirmed the fighting, telling reporters that government forces wanted to neutralise a “rebel threat.”
“The war will resume because our positions are being shelled by government forces. M23 has the mandate to protect its people and their property,” the M23 head said as the delegation in Kampala threatened to pull out of the talks in protest of the attacks.
Rene Abandi, the head of M23 delegation, threatened to pull out of the talks after the attack 20km north of Goma.
“We lost one man and a few more were injured following the attack even as the talks continue. The government is not showing any commitment,” Mr Abandi told Rwanda Today from Kampala.
The rebels accuse the government of President Joseph Kabila for the stalled talks despite recent assurances of a deal from partner states. However, sources close to Kinshasa indicate that the government is not ready to give in to the demands of the rebels.
It is however believed that President Kabila’s government is divided on the position to take in the talks.
“Some members of the government, including the likes of Government Spokesperson Lambert Mende and Foreign Minister Raymond Tshibanda, are against the government giving in to the conditions and ultimatums set by the rebels while others say the government should ease up,” a source in the talks said.
The Kinshasa delegation in Kampala, which does not include top decision makers, has been hesitant to agree to some of the M23’s demands while the rebels, too, are not willing to let up.
“It is a deadlock at the moment. Both delegations seem to be running out of steam, even though the government of Uganda seems determined to keep the talks going until a deal is reached,” the source further revealed.
Kinshasa also accused the rebels of derailing the talks by setting unnecessary restrictions and demands and condemned the attack on the UN helicopter.
But Rwanda is still hopeful that the talks, which were initiated by the International Conference for the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) Heads of States, will deliver a peace deal to end hostilities for good.
President Paul Kagame recently spoke on the situation in Congo, observing that the situation is likely to favour Rwandan rebels who are based there, but warned that Rwanda remained alert. He said although the renewed skirmishes were likely to give the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) an opportunity to reorganise and rearm, Rwanda had no plans to enter DR Congo.
The president said Rwanda would wish to see an end to the longstanding conflict.
He again denied his country’s alleged links to M23 rebels, arguing that recent reports of purported recruits who fled to Uganda were “fabricated.”