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DRC turns heat on Uganda, accuses it of supporting M23 rebels

Friday November 04 2022
DRC police officers block anti-Rwanda protesters

DRC police officers block anti-Rwanda protesters as they arrive in Goma near the border of DR Congo and Rwanda on October 31, 2022. A group of Congolese parliamentarians and civil society activists have accused Uganda of supporting the M23 rebels. PHOTO | MICHEL LUNANGA | AFP

By DAILY MONITOR

A group of Congolese parliamentarians and civil society activists have petitioned President Felix Tshisekedi to sever diplomatic relations with Uganda, accusing it of supporting advancing M23 rebels.

They also want Kinshasa to terminate the year-old joint military offensive by Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC) and Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF), code-named Shujaa, launched last November to annihilate the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) rebels.

In Kampala, State Minister for International Relations, Mr Henry Oryem Okello, dismissed the claims that Uganda was involved in subversion against Tshisekedi’s government as “hogwash, rubbish” and unsupported with evidence.

“The allegations are false. That is hogwash, rubbish! There is no iota of evidence,” he said, challenging the accusers to produce any incriminating evidence against Uganda.

‘Attention seekers’

Arguing that a peaceful Congo is beneficial to Uganda, Mr Oryem-Okello added, “Those (accusers) are attention seekers. They should do some research and bring evidence … Uganda doesn’t support M23 (rebels). Uganda is seeking total peace in eastern DRC.”

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The adverse naming of Kampala comes months after Congo cut diplomatic ties with Rwanda, which it accuses of aiding M23.

DRC expelled Rwanda’s ambassador and stopped RwandAir, the country’s national carrier, from the country’s airspace. But Kigali denies allegations of any machinations.

Highly placed Uganda government and security sources, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter, said Kampala had been briefed that Kinshasa was contemplating similar actions, including blocking Uganda Airlines’ lucrative flights there.

Road project stalled

The flare up in violence has stalled the upgrade to bitumen of 223 kilometres of roads linking Beni, Goma and Butembo in eastern DRC, 10 months after the governments of Congo and Uganda handed over the works to Ugandan contractor Dott Services. It is unclear if the company is being paid after placing equipment on site during the December 2021 launch.

It has also been reported that the $330 million project, to be bankrolled by Uganda, separately encountered unexpected headwinds following a last-minute demand by some officials in Kinshasa that Dott Services pays taxes and sub-contracts the engineering works, fully or partially, to a Congolese company.

There were other adverse developments too.

The capture by M23 in July of Bunagana, a major customs point on the DR Congo side, alongside a ban by the rebels on cross-border commerce, has left particularly Ugandan exporters counting losses yet DRC offers Uganda the biggest market share in the region.

But this economic fortune orbited in the risk zone following a whirlwind of activities in Congo on Monday marked by public pronouncements and street protests in Beni City where demonstrators carried placards jointly denouncing President Museveni and his Rwandan counterpart Paul Kagame for their alleged support for M23 rebels.

“On the other side in Rutshuru, Uganda is helping the M23 rebels alongside Rwanda, but when you come here in the Beni territory, there is some kind of hypocrisy,” said Mr Pepin Kavota, president of the civil society in Beni.

“It is on that basis that we say that our country must end the diplomatic relations not only with Rwanda, but also with Uganda,” Politico Magazine quoted Mr Kavota as having said.

The uproar in Congo comes a fortnight before members of the United Nations Security Council Sanctions Committee on DRC visit for first-hand assessment of the situation on the ground.

Largest peace mission

The snowballing violence in eastern Congo, where the world body runs its largest peace mission, gained global traction after eight UN peacekeepers perished in March this year when a helicopter carrying them to an attack zone came down.

Government officials briefed on the planned visit said the UNSC members will establish whether states neighbouring Congo are complying with, and have not breached, any sanctions regime.

Resolution 1533 (2004) obliges UN member states, particularly those neighbouring Congo, not to permit their territories to be used for transit or supply of arms to DRC. They should also not allow sanctioned individuals to travel and should enforce seizure or freezing of assets of such persons, prohibit their airspaces to aircrafts used in abuse of the sanctions, and ensure no transportation violations by neighbours to Ituri and Kivu provinces of Congo.

Source of suspicion

Sources briefed on the regional security situation said Congo’s suspicion against Uganda rose after Kampala signed a military cooperation with Kigali in May this year under which Rwanda reportedly established intelligence coordination presence at the headquarters of Uganda’s Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence in Kisoro, a Ugandan town bordering DRC.

One of the key Rwandan officials involved in the coordination arrangement was Emmanuel Ruzindana, then a director of operations in the country’s military intelligence directorate, whom President Kagame on September 29 promoted to a colonel and deployed him as his country’s military attaché to Uganda.

Uganda Chief of Military Intelligence (CMI), Maj Gen James Birungi, and his Rwandan counterpart, Brig Gen Vincent Nyakarundi, spearheaded negotiations of the military cooperation as part of the broader diplomatic charm offensive led by Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba to normalise frosty relations between Uganda and Rwanda,.

In a tweet shortly after the military spymasters signed the deal, Gen Muhoozi, who then was UPDF Commander of Land Forces, praised leaders and armies of the two countries for “revitalising our strong alliance”.

Backing for Rwanda

In other prior posts on the micro-blogging side, Gen Muhoozi pledged Uganda’s backing of Rwanda in any fight, pricking the heart of Congo that had publicly proclaimed Rwanda as an adversary.

But Defence and Military Spokesman, Brig Felix Kulayigye, Wednesday said that he was not aware of any military pact under which Rwanda would establish presence in Uganda for intelligence coordination.

He argued that accusing Uganda of supporting M23 rebels was an “insult to Uganda”.

“Do they have evidence? We have facilitated the FARDC, treated their wounded soldiers and handed over their soldiers with their weapons to their country,” Brig Gen Kulayigye said in respect to a counter-offensive by UPDF earlier in the year that expelled M23 rebels who had overwhelmed Congolese troops and temporarily took control of Bunagana town on DRC side.

Speaking earlier on Monday, Congo’s Minister of Communication Patrick Muyaya said they were investigating whether Uganda was supporting the rebels who were making battlefield gains.

The M23 is a rebel group formed in 2012 and whose grievances span political and marginalisation claims of mainly the Tutsi, a tribe spread across borders. Botched implementation of agreements reached with former DRC president Joseph Kabila’s administration birthed a resurgence of the current hostility in which President Tshisekedi’s government has characterised the fighters as “terrorists”.

Aerial technology support

Highly placed security sources have said that a military powerhouse in southern Africa is supporting Kinshasa with advanced aerial technology to capture information on military, troop and equipment movement into Congo from neighbouring countries.

After barrelling their way to conquer Bunagana border town on the Congo side in July, to the alarm of regional leaders, the M23 fighters have added more territories under their control ahead of an expected counter-offensive by the East African Community regional force.

The renewed violence captured the attention of regional leaders, with former Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta chairing a number of conclaves of peers in Nairobi, which resolved on deployment of regional military power to pacify the restive but mineral-rich eastern Congo.

On Wednesday, Kenya's President William Ruto announced the deployment of troops to eastern DRC in a joint regional operation against a rebel offensive.

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