Feared rebel group M23 is showing mixed signals towards a regional peace bid, even as leaders indicated this week that the group will be welcome for dialogue in case they are interested.
The details emerged from a side-lines meeting in Washington where African leaders gathered for a US-Africa Summit. Presidents Evariste Ndayishimiye, Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, Kenya’s William Ruto and Tanzania’s Samia Suluhu Hassan gathered for a mini Great Lakes region Summit to discuss the DRC conflicts. The Great Lakes peace bid is led by Angolan leader João Lourenço but has since been merged with efforts by the East African Community which is now chaired by President Ndayishimiye.
“Peace in the region is an absolute emergency, we will not accept to rest until a lasting peace is restored to the East of the DRC,” said the Burundian leader after the meeting on Thursday.
“We have tabled our conclusions of yesterday’s discussions to President Tshisekedi and we expect the M23 to begin the disengagement of its forces.”
Kenya’s Foreign Affairs and Diaspora Affairs Cabinet Secretary Alfred Mutua said the region wants agreements reached in Luanda, and Nairobi to be implemented as the formative stage of creating peace.
“The leaders agreed that it is necessary that all players in the conflict be talked to and with and included in the solution for DRC,” Dr Mutua told The EastAfrican.
“The meeting came up with four strategies to propel the peace process and assigned responsibilities to different leaders…and this involves monitoring mechanism for the implementation of the agreements and interventions by certain leaders for the peace process to succeed.”
Luanda’s agreement was a pledge between Rwanda and DRC, who accuse each other of fuelling rebel movements against their territories, to choose dialogue. While the Nairobi deal was a collective call by armed groups to begin discussions with the DRC government for peace. M23, now blamed for recent spate of violence, did not attend.
Dr Mutua did not elaborate on the four strategies, only explaining the intent for the region to monitor violations.
Earlier on Thursday, the M23 said fighting had resumed in Bwiza, North Kivu, and accused the Congolese army of having “attacked its positions.” Laurence Kanyuka, the political spokesperson for the M23 said the army had “flouted the efforts of the region.”
A meeting held earlier on Tuesday in Kibumba in North Kivu had signaled peace after the rebels met with Congolese army.
The DR Congo government accuses the M23 of not complying with the decisions of the Luanda mini-summit, which dictate that the M23 rebels “withdraw from conquered positions without condition.” Paradoxically, both the Kinshasa authorities and the rebels claim to be following the Luanda summit.
After some procrastination, the M23 and some FARDC officials met on December 12 in Kibumba, some 20km from Goma, in North Kivu, eastern DRC. The meeting took place “in a peaceful atmosphere”, according to the M23, which added that it hoped for another meeting with the same interlocutors, including the United Nations Stabilisation Mission in Congo, the Enlarged Joint Regional Verification Mechanism and the East African Regional Force.
Lay down arms
This came as a surprise to Kinshasa, given that the Congolese authorities have for months now rejected the possibility of talks with the M23 rebels, as long as the group does not lay down its arms.
Congolese army officials still insist no dialogue with the M23 and rebel movements until they comply with the Luanda mini-summit “without condition”.
Gen Sylvain Ekenge, spokesman for the Congolese army, said that the December 12 meeting was not a negotiation meeting.
“We went to see them [ M23] to tell them to apply the resolutions of the Luanda mini-summit. There were no negotiations. What is being asked of them is their unconditional withdrawal from the areas they occupy,” said Gen Ekenge.
Not Rwanda’s problem
Meanwhile, President Kagame told an audience his country was being blamed for a problem that lies squarely with Congolese leaders.
“The problem was not created by Rwanda, and it is not Rwanda’s problem. It is Congo’s problem,” Kagame told an audience on the side-lines of the US-Africa Summit in Washington.
A preliminary investigation by the UN mission in DR Congo found that 131 men, women and children were shot dead or hacked to death late last month as part of reprisals against the civilian population by M23 rebels.
“I cannot be responsible for... Congolese of Rwandan descent in Congo who are being denied their rights as citizens,” he said.
President Tshisekedi said Tuesday in a meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken that his country was a victim of an “aggression” from Rwanda.” It was unclear if Kagame and Tshisekedi would meet in Washington.
But the persistent mistrust between M23 and FARDC means guns could rumble on for some time. The M23 has always asked the Congolese government to implement the agreements signed in the past, including to integrate its fighters into the Congolese army and security services. The Congolese parliament passed a law that prohibits any integration of armed groups into the army, as has been done in the past in the Congo in the search for peace.
At the Washington mini-summit, Kenyan President William Ruto said the region has an interest in finding a lasting peace to the current instability in Congo.
“We cannot let the situation get worse. That is why we are encouraging dialogue and a cessation of hostilities. We are looking for a lasting solution,” the Kenyan president said. Félix Tshisekedi, who was also in Washington, did not attend the meeting with his counterparts in the region. He was instead given proposals to respond to.
The Congolese head of state justified his absence by saying that he was at that time with President Joe Biden to discuss, among other things, security issues in the eastern DRC.
Earlier on Monday, Congo Nobel laureate Denis Mukwege called for United Nations sanctions against Rwanda for its alleged support of the M23 rebel movement in eastern Congo, whose resurgence this year has led to bloody clashes and displaced hundreds of thousands.
A preliminary UN report last week said the rebels executed at least 131 villagers in reprisal killings in Kishishe and Bambo villages as part of a campaign of murder, rape, kidnapping and looting.
“The situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo is quite comparable to what is happening in Ukraine with Russia,” Mukwege said on Monday.
“We cannot on the one hand accuse or admit that Rwanda has attacked the Democratic Republic of Congo, in violation of international law, in violation of the UN Charter and, on the other hand, continue to financially support Rwanda,” he said.
He added that UN Resolution 2641 provides for sanctions on any state that supports armed groups in the DRC. “We ask that this resolution be applied,” he said.
“We must be able to ask Rwanda to stop supporting the M23 terrorists, because they are terrorists, they kill, they rape, they destroy villages. They are supported by a member state of the UN. That this state can still be a supplier of UN. troops, it is a totally inconsistent,” he said.
The UN did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Rwanda is the fourth largest contributor to UN peacekeeping missions, according to the UN.
Reporting by Aggrey Mutambo and Patrick Ilunga. Additional reporting by Reuters