Rwanda roots for recognition of M23 in Congo talks

Saturday June 03 2023

East African Regional Force soldiers and M23 rebels walk on the National Road 2 in Kibumba in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, on December 23, 2022. PHOTO | GLODY MURHABAZI | AFP


Rwanda wants the M23 rebel group to be part of the dialogue to restore peace in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, a proposal that could potentially kick up a storm in Kinshasa.

During the 21st Extraordinary Summit of the EAC Heads of State in Bujumbura on Wednesday, Rwanda Prime Minister Edouard Ngirente called on the leaders to involve the M23 in both the Nairobi Process and the field visit and verification at the Rumangabo camp for the pre-cantonment programme meant to see the group withdraw from occupied areas in exchange for reintegration and reconciliation.

“We don’t see how the M23 is not involved in the process that is going to assess where they are going to be living,” said Ngirente.

“We cannot be negotiating for peace without involving the concerned people and if they have to withdraw from the places where they are now, they need to be involved. The M23 should be part of the team which will go to verify the suitability of the place ,” he told the Summit.

Rwanda has often been seen to back the M23, something that angers Kinshasa, which refers to them as a terrorist group.

Of all the groups under the Nairobi Process, a peace programme under the East African Community, Kinshasa has refused to hold dialogue with M23, demanding that they first surrender territory to the Congolese army (FARDC) and lay down arms.


By design, vacated territory should be occupied by the East African Community Regional Forces, but the M23 has accused the Congolese army of using other militia to occupy the spaces.Rwanda says no other militia should be allowed to retake positions.

As talks continued in Bujumbura, the Congolese army accused the M23 of plotting renewed fighting. The FARDC said the rebels were positioning less than 20km from Goma to launch a war. The M23 rejected the claims.

Read: Congo army, M23 trade blame for ceasefire violation

“The M23 never prepares for war, but rather for dialogue,” the group said, instead accusing FARDC and the FDLR, a Rwandan rebel group inside DRC, of preparing for war.

Congolese army Spokesman Maj-Gen Sylvain Ekenge said that the FARDC had observed movements of M23 and Rwandan Defence Force troops and their recruits deploying to Kibumba (Nyiragongo territory, less than 20km from Goma) where they have set up their headquarters.

“The aim of this redeployment is to attack the town of Goma and thereby exacerbate the humanitarian crisis and insecurity,” he said.

The M23 rejected the claims. Willy Ngoma, military spokesman for the M23, described Ekenge's statement as “unwarranted and distorted, aimed solely at misleading public opinion.”

“The M23 never prepares for war, but rather for dialogue,” the group said, instead accusing FARDC and the FDLR, a Rwandan rebel group inside DRC, of preparing for war.

For almost three months, a fragile ceasefire has been in place in North Kivu, but both the FARDC and the rebels keep accusing each other of attempting to violate it.

The Burundian and Kenyan contingents of the East African regional force say they have facilitated the conduct of a verification exercise within Masisi and Nyiragongo territories by the Joint Bureau comprising the Ad Hoc Verification Mechanism, EJVM, EAC- MVM and EACRF. The Joint Bureau visited localities within Nyiragongo and Masisi territories to assess violations of the ceasefire, atrocities against civilians by armed groups and the progress of the peace process.

This week, the EAC Summit approved the extension of the EACRF mandate by another six months, effective March 8. But Kinshasa will still need to ratify the Status of Force Agreement (SOFA), which is the authorisation for the EAC to deploy troops into the Congo.
And, while all indications are that Kinshasa would approve, it has also been critical of the force’s inability to got into combat against M23. The mission says it is a buffer meant to encourage dialogue and prevent armed clashes.

Read: Kenya seeks to pacify DRC over troops concerns

In Burundi, Kenya’s President William Ruto weighed in on the M23 issue during the discussion on whether to include them in visits and access Rumangabo, saying: “We have agreed broadly on whether Rumangabo had facilities to accommodate M23 in the context of pre-cantonment…We all agreed that Sabinyo, which was the original place for them to go, did not have any facilities. The process to access will be carried out by a bigger team, the Monusco.”

Burundi’s President Evariste Ndayishimiye, who is the current chairman of the EAC, said the monitoring mechanism will decide who to go with at a given time.

“The future of a peaceful community is our common responsibility,” he said.

The Summit directed the regional force to work with the chiefs of defence forces, Monusco and other stakeholders to visit and verify within three weeks the suitability of Rumangabo camp for the pre-cantonment of armed groups.