The M23 rebels, who were forced to cut and run for the hills last week by the much improved Congolese army and the United Nations’ special fighting force, are confronted with tough choices.
For the M23 group to salvage any relevance, they must now accept a deal they have repeatedly rejected at the largely ineffectual talks in Kampala that began in December 2012.
But this would also require them to abandon some of their military and political officials, who President Joseph Kabila’s government has insisted will not receive amnesty because of war-related charges against them. The list of 100 top ranking M23 officials was published by Kinshasa in September.
The government’s position is strongly backed by the UN. In statement on October 21, Mary Robinson, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy to the Great Lakes Region, told the Security Council how “the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the 23 March Movement (M23) armed group need to reach a peace accord based on the principles of sustainability and accountability, and must not allow amnesty for the perpetrators of war crimes, or crimes against humanity.”
To sacrifice any one of their ranks is a call the rebels are unlikely to make, as it would amount to self-annihilation. Yet, the alternatives before them are no easier.
They would either have to take a last stand near the Rwandan border where they have retreated to against a force they have not been able to hold back since August, or morph into one of the many other militias that roam eastern Congo and wait for another encounter with it.
There are reports that Uganda, which was selected to mediate the talks, is pushing the UN to back down from its insistence on selected amnesty but there is no official word on this.
According to Lt Col Paddy Ankunda, an advisor to Uganda’s Defence Minister Dr Crispus Kiyonga, the talks’ chief facilitator, over 95 per cent of the issues under amnesty have been agreed upon and the technical committee is ironing out the remaining five per cent. He did not give any details.
“Defeat is not the most important thing. What is important is compromise and agreement. There cannot be a military solution to a political problem. Both parties need to realise that lasting solutions are only anchored in political incentives that require dialogue, compromise, and agreement,” Lt Col Ankunda told The EastAfrican.
Although Kinshasa’s military gains have eroded any incentives for either the government or the rebels to fully engage in a political process, a governance expert who has consulted for the talks says each side would be foolhardy to ignore the need to reach a political agreement.
“There is still legitimacy to fight for and that for the rebels should be important. They need to see how they improve the offer they have been presented because they stand to gain in a peace deal if politically they are strong on the ground,” he said.
To secure their temporary military success, the UN and Kinshasa need to quickly re-establish internal order, introduce good governance in both North and South Kivu, resolve land conflicts, deter ethnically motivated discrimination, and return refugees home — none of which is easy given the little footprint the state commands in this region; and the reason it has become a haven for rebel groups.
Even tougher is the expectation upon the Congolese army and most particularly the UN’s intervention force to move with the same urgency and energy on other armed groups, particularly the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, which comprises remnants of perpetrators of the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
The FDLR, which Kigali insists poses an existential threat, has established close networks with the Congolese army, according to several reports, including some by the UN.