Now, UN experts to assess former M23 rebels

Saturday November 30 2013

Some of the former Congolese rebels who fled to Rwanda. The UN has said it will support them. FILE

The United Nations has agreed to send a mission to Rwanda to participate in the process of identifying and verifying former M23 rebels who fled to its territory early this year.

This follows a request by Rwanda in its bid to fight off allegations that it supports the Congolese rebel movement.

This week, Minister of Disaster Preparedness and Refugee Affairs Seraphine Mukantabana told a press briefing that a team of UN experts will be arriving in the country on December 1 to assess the 682 former M23 fighters who fled to its territory in February.

“We will jointly assess each one of the rebels and the UN will support them,” said Ms Mukantabana on Thursday. An additional 95, mainly wounded rebels, also entered at the beginning of November.

“The government has been appealing to the international community to intervene but there has been little response. These are not our people and we did not invite them here,” said Ms Mukantabana.

The group in Rwanda is led by Bishop Jean Marie Runiga and Col Badouin Ngaruye, who fell out with the M23 commander Col Sultani Makenga, allegedly on the grounds that they were loyal to General Bosco Ntaganda, who was transferred to The Hague after surrendering to the US embassy in Rwanda.


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While Kinshasa has demanded that the rebels be sent back home to face charges, Kigali has insisted that it is honouring its international obligation to protect the fleeing fighters.

It has also stated that it cannot extradite wanted persons to the DRC not only because the two countries do not have an extradition agreement but also because the country maintains the death penalty.

“The law says such people need to renounce all acts related to war and politics before they are accorded the support we are giving them — they did that,” said Ms Mukantabana.

Though the former fighters are seeking asylum in Rwanda, Ms Mukantabana said their applications will be looked into after a joint assessment with the UN.

Uganda has also insisted that the ongoing peace talks between the rebels and the government be concluded first before the rebels are sent back.

It is also hosting about 1,500 rebels who crossed over following intense fighting between the rebels and UN Intervention Brigade-backed government forces at the end of October.

“They are not prisoners; they are soldiers running away from a war so we are receiving them and helping them because it is our responsibility,” Colonel Paddy Ankunda told AFP early November. He said Uganda had also welcomed fleeing soldiers from the DRC’s national army earlier in the year.

The group in Uganda includes the M23 commander Col Sultani Makenga and Bertrand Bisimwa, the president of the rebel movement.

Talks between Rwanda and DRC’s Justice Ministries seem to have stalled, with little progress registered. Rwanda’s Minister of Justice and Attorney General Johnston Busingye recently said that any possible extradition of the former rebels would happen through legal channels and not through political pressure.

In its response to the July letter, Kigali informed Kinshasa that it needed to provide more evidence and information affirming why it wanted the said individuals — Runiga, Ngaruye, Zimurinda and Badege — extradited.

“Extradition is a legal issue and this matter will be handled in a legal process. We have responded to the DRC government asking them to furnish us with more details,” said Mr Busingye.