Which way forward for Uganda-led DRC, M23 talks?

Nearly two weeks after the expiry of the deadline that Heads of State from the Great Lakes Region set for talks between DR Congo and M23 rebels which have ended, Kampala — which hosts and facilitates them — is still silent regarding the way forward.

M23 rebel fighters. Kinshasa has rejected a ceasefire with the rebel group. Photo/AFP  

BY GAAKI KIGAMBO Special Correspondent

IN SUMMARY

  • While no formal communication has been made regarding the way forward, amnesty, integration and demobilisation appear to be deal breakers in the talks which chief facilitator Crispus Kiyonga, Uganda’s Defence Minister, has said are on course and nearing conclusion.
  • There are reports that the talks could resume on October 8, but Museveni was noncommittal on that or what was happening in the interim or whether he was consulting colleagues as agreed at the Kampala Summit in September if the deadline passed without the talks concluding.

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Nearly two weeks after the expiry of the deadline that Heads of State from the Great Lakes Region set for talks between DR Congo and M23 rebels which have ended, Kampala — which hosts and facilitates them — is still silent regarding the way forward.

The resulting vacuum, analysts say, is worrisome in the absence of a clear cessation of hostilities.

Kinshasa rejected an outright ceasefire during the leaders’ 7th Extraordinary Summit on September 5 in Uganda’s capital Kampala, which set the talks’ deadlines, preferring instead to exercise “maximum restraint.” It argued that a ceasefire would help the rebels regroup following clashes in August that forced them out of some of their strategic positions around Goma, the provincial capital of restive North Kivu Province.

The clashes were headlined by the UN’s Intervention Force, the first combat force the UN has ever assembled. The rebels took these positions in November 2012 when they retreated from the city they had overrun and held for 11 days on the order of regional leaders.

READ: UN meets over DRC amid deceptive calm in Goma

While no formal communication has been made regarding the vacuum, amnesty, integration and demobilisation appear to be deal breakers in the talks which chief facilitator Crispus Kiyonga, Uganda’s Defence Minister, has said are on course and nearing conclusion.

With the rebels having little appetite to return to the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC), Kinshasa has not made it any more enticing by insisting that none of the commanders will be taken back. On September 19, they handed a list of 100 top M23 commanders to the head of the UN Mission in Congo, Monusco, whom they say are ineligible for readmission.

Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, the talks’ mediator, said in a meeting in New York with top Belgian officials that any lasting solution to the problem should focus less on individuals. Rather, there should be well thought out criteria to sort out pressing issues and also provide for comprehensive rehabilitation and reintegration of warring groups.

“The solution is to put criteria in place where anybody can pass [will] be accommodated and those who do not are retired with benefits,” President Museveni reportedly told Didier Reynders, Belgium’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Jean Pascal Labille, its Minister for Development and Co-operation, in a meeting at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York.

There are reports that the talks could resume on October 8, but Museveni was noncommittal on that or what was happening in the interim or whether he was consulting colleagues as agreed at the Kampala Summit in September if the deadline passed without the talks concluding.

Speaking to reporters in Kampala on Wednesday, Museveni, who currently chairs the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, under whose aegis the talks are taking place, said his job was to facilitate the talks, not to resolve the conflict.

“The talks are among Congolese. It is not between me and Congolese. It is between the DR Congo government and those rebels. Our job is facilitation. If they don’t agree, then they go back to their home,” said President Museveni. 

On September 5, ICGLR leaders directed the Dialogue, which opened in December 2012 and has since suffered many false starts, to resume within three days and conclude within a maximum period of 14 days.

The deadline’s closing date, however, coincided with a high level meeting on the sidelines of the 68th UN General Assembly. It was convened to review the implementation of the regional commitments under the UN-funded Peace, Security and Co-operation Framework for the DR Congo and the region.

The Framework, which 10 African countries signed in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa in February, has been touted as the way forward to restoring stability in eastern DR Congo.

Unsurprisingly, then, the sidelines meeting that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called urged a swift conclusion to the Kampala talks, since the UN is keen not to be seen as torpedoing regional initiatives.

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