Uganda, Rwanda reach out to DRC after deal flops

Saturday November 16 2013

M23 rebels withdraw through the hills having left their position in the village of Karuba, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo on November 30, 2012. M23 accused Kinshasa and the international community of ganging up against them. Photo/AFP

M23 rebels withdraw through the hills having left their position in the village of Karuba, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo on November 30, 2012. M23 accused Kinshasa and the international community of ganging up against them. Photo/AFP 

By RISDEL KASASIRA Special Correspondent

Over the past few days, President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda has been in contact with his Congolese counterpart, Joseph Kabila, in an attempt to encourage Kinshasa to sign the peace pact negotiated before the defeat of the M23 rebels.

“We are in touch with them and we are still waiting for them to sign,” Uganda’s Defence Minister Dr Crispus Kiyonga told The EastAfrican. “We have hope that they will do so.”

Diplomats across the region were by the end of the week waiting on a signal from Kinshasa after the delegation from the Democratic Republic of Congo led by Foreign Affairs Minister Raymond Tshibanda walked away from a scheduled event to sign a peace deal in Kampala with the M23 rebels.

The agreement is widely seen as a critical step to resolving years of war and political instability in eastern DRC.

The spokesperson of the Ugandan military, Lt-Col Paddy Ankunda, said the only option on the table is a negotiated settlement between the warring parties.

“Efforts are ongoing to have the parties sign the agreement because there is no option. The only way to resettle M23 is to sign the agreement,” he said.

The defeat of the M23 has changed the military configuration in eastern DRC and given Kinshasa the upper hand but the search for a more sustainable political solution remains incomplete.

Sources in Kampala told The EastAfrican that the turnaround by the Kinshasa delegation was as a result of the Congolese government seeing M23 as a “defeated force” and, therefore, they see no need to sign an agreement with the “losers.”

“When M23 seized Goma, the pressure was on Kinshasa to sign a peace deal,” a senior official familiar with the matter told The EastAfrican.

“After M23’s spectacular collapse, Kinshasa lost the incentive and motivation to do so; unfortunately it has left Museveni’s credibility on the line.”

Senior officials of the M23 say they were persuaded by President Museveni to withdraw from Goma in November 2012, and resume negotiations. They add that the joint summit earlier this month in Pretoria between the Southern African Development Community and the International Committee on the Great Lakes Region directed them to call off their rebellion in exchange for a peace deal with the DRC government.

The leader of the M23 delegation, Rene Abandi, told The EastAfrican on Friday that they were shocked at Kinshasa’s last-minute turnaround.

“We have agreed on everything in the documents including amnesty. What I don’t understand is why they changed their mind at the last minute,” he said.

The M23 rebels are now holed up at Silver Springs Hotel in Kampala and Mr Abandi accused Kinshasa and the international community of ganging up against them.

Mistrust of Kampala

“We are Congolese and we will remain Congolese,” he said. “Kinshasa is refusing to sign the agreement because they have the backing of the international community, but President Kabila should know that these are our internal problems and no external forces will help us solve them. We have to talk, work as Congolese and end these internal problems,”

However, Kinshasa, which has long accused Rwanda and Uganda of supporting M23, accused Uganda of behaving as if it were part of the conflict, an accusation the government dismissed.

President Kabila and the international community are already pushing for the handover of the M23 military leader, Gen Sultan Makenga, to Kinshasa for trial; Ugandan officials say they will only hand over the rebel fighters after a deal has been signed and their fate established as part of the agreement.

If the agreement is not signed, President Museveni will have to choose between handing over Gen Makenga to Kinshasa and keeping him in Uganda, which the international community is totally against, and which could potentially cause a diplomatic rift with President Kabila’s government.

The fate of the senior rebel leaders is crucial. After the defeat of the M23, the Congolese government preferred to sign a “declaration” to mark the end of the war, rather than an “agreement” that would see them integrated into the Congolese army and also get amnesty. Kinshasa is opposed to both amnesty and reintegration of fighters who have mutinied before.

The US and the UN support the Congolese government position that the M23 commanders accused of committing atrocities should not be given amnesty. The US envoy for the Great Lakes Region and DRC Russell Feingold, said last week that perpetrators of crimes against humanity and war crimes should be tried.

“We think this agreement is a good step forward for several reasons. In the past, agreements like this have given amnesty to those who committed war crimes and crimes against humanity. That’s unacceptable,” Mr Feingold said before the signing was postponed.

“The Congolese government has been clear from the beginning that they don’t want to do that again and US and the International Community supported them. No amnesty for those who have committed those crimes.”

The negotiations could further be complicated by the emergence of a splinter group within the M23 peace delegation, with some members saying they are ready to sign “any offer” by Kinshasa.

The splinter group of eight delegates led by Ngeve Kambasu, says the M23 rebel leader, Bertrand Bisimwa, was leading the rebel group to “political suicide” but Mr Abandi said Kambasu’s group does not represent M23, describing them as “a small group of individuals looking for money from President Kabila to survive.”

On November 4, during the summit on DRC organised by the ICGLR and SADC in Durban, President Museveni criticised the Kinshasa government for pushing a “Eurocentric” policy and disregarding regional and continental mechanisms to end the war.

In Kigali, Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo told a local radio station that Rwanda was willing to work with the Congolese authorities to jointly deploy forces against the remaining armed groups in eastern DR Congo, including the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), some of whose officials are accused of involvement in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

“We have information that FDLR is moving close to the Rwandan border as M23 is chased out of the territory,” Ms Mushikiwabo said.

“If the eastern DRC becomes stable, Rwanda would like to resume joint operations with DRC to put an end to the problem of FDLR because the group constitutes a threat to peace and security in both countries.”