The US has said the ongoing violence in eastern Congo is not perpetrated by one rebel group alone.
Stephen Rapp, the head of the US office for Global Criminal Justice, said in Kinshasa that M23 was just one of the armed groups unleashing terror on civilians, forcing them to flee to neighbouring countries.
Mr Rapp said the US is concerned with the violence and deteriorating humanitarian situation in Congo as violent rebels continue wreaking havoc.
“We firmly condemn such acts of violence; the increasing unrest in eastern DRC is the direct consequence of the mutiny in the Congolese armed forces and triggered by the armed group called M23,” Mr Rapp said in a statement.
However, he remained non-committal on a recent report by the UN, that squarely blamed M23 for the massacres in eastern Congo, saying other rebel groups also contributed to the violence.
“I made it clear that in my observation, to date, in terms of mass killings, rapes and atrocities, I do not see evidence of M23 having engaged in that level,” Mr Rapp said while comparing the group to a similar rebel group that fought the government of Sierra Leone between 1991 and 2002.
However, he explained that some M23 leaders were among the perpetrators of violence that has displaced hundreds of thousands of civilians who have fled to neighbouring countries.
He said M23 leadership heavily contributed alongside other armed groups to violence and massacres in Northern and Southern Kivu.
“The UN Security Council and the High Commissioner on Human Rights Navi Pillay recently named five senior officers who have in the past participated in atrocities against civilians and who should face justice,” said the envoy.
He named Bosco Ntaganda, Sultani Makenga, Baudouin Ngaruye, Innocent Zimurinda and Innocent Kaina as the first five senior leaders of M23 who have been responsible for violence and murders in eastern Congo.
Mr Rapp was on tour of the Great Lakes region to negotiate the possibility of establishing a joint court by Rwanda and Congo to try suspected perpetrators of violence in the region.
The US government suspended military aid to Rwanda over the UN report that linked Rwanda with the Congo violence. The report accused Rwanda of backing the M23 rebel against the ruling government in eastern DRC.
Several Western countries have since joined the fray, imposing sanctions on Rwanda in bid to force it to sever links with militants in eastern Congo.
Mr Rapp backed the UN report, saying there is overwhelming evidence that Rwanda has been supporting the rebel groups.
“What is important, however, is that all external assistance to armed groups in the DRC cease, and we have a verified way to ensure the aid is being provided and we will work in that direction.”
“We don’t want to get into arguments about facts; we want to be involved in the verification process, we want to see peace restored to the Kivus, and the necessary part to make sure this peace is restored is making sure that people who are responsible for the atrocities, the leaders of the armed groups like the FDLR, Sylvestre Mudacumura, are held to account,” said Mr Rapp.
The UN Group of experts on Congo submitted its report on Monday and accused Rwanda of supporting rebels to wreak havoc in Congo.
However, Rwanda has strongly denied having aided a mutiny in eastern Congo as the UN report stated.
A fortnight ago leaders of the Great Lakes countries converged in Uganda to come up with amicable solutions to the Congo conflict.
The summit agreed that a force will be sent to Congo to support the government’s efforts to crack down on rebels responsible for the violence.
A sub-committee of defence ministers was constituted to find means of stopping the conflicts and promote peace and stability in Congo. The sub-committee was also mandated to provide details of the neutral force as well as how it will operate and report back.
Both President Pual Kagame and Congolese President Joseph Kabila attended the summit that was expected to diffuse tension between the two leaders.