There was hope last week that mounting violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo could ebb after the feared M23 group agreed to surrender territories to the East African Community Regional Forces (EACRF).
And for most parts of the year, including recently, the security threat was largely seen as caused by the M23.
But a new report by the UN Panel of Experts says communal violence also increased in 2022, especially between Yaka and Teke communities in western parts of the country.
This week, the UN Panel of Experts on the DRC said that the violence in Kwamouth, in Mai-Ndombe province, some 200 kilometres from Kinshasa is a matter of concern to be viewed as a collective security threat to DR Congo.
In its report to the Security Council, the Experts cited the Ugandan rebel group, the ADF as having “continued to expand their area of operations and attack civilians in of Beni and Lubero, in North Kivu, and in southern Ituri.” The ADF used improvised explosive devices in urban areas, opting for more visible attacks conducted through well-established networks.
“ADF continued to operate in small groups launching attacks simultaneously on multiple fronts,” the report said.
The report highlights that violence is increasing despite the continued application of the state of siege, which had been in place since May 2021 in Ituri and North Kivu province. President Félix Tshisekedi had decreed this measure as a way to combat armed groups in these provinces. Under this arrangement, civilian administrators and governors were replaced by military and police administrators.
According to the experts' report, the violence continued "despite the military operations carried out by the armies of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC), the Uganda People's Defence Forces (UPDF) and UN security forces (Monusco).”
“The fourth phase of Operation Shujaa, in September 2022, even led to an increase in ADF attacks against civilians in retaliation, as had been observed in the past,” the experts say. Since November 30, 2021, the Ugandan army has been in a joint operation with the Congolese army in Ituri and North Kivu to hunt down Ugandan ADF rebels who have a link to ISIS.
“ADF continued to be considered as an option for recruits willing to join Da'esh (ISIS)…because Da'esh publicity increased the notoriety of ADF. In its June 2022 Al-Naba newsletter, Da'esh encouraged recruits who had failed to join jihad battlefields elsewhere to travel to its African provinces.
“In November 2022, Da'esh published a 20-minute propaganda video on ADF entitled 'The life of jihad'. This video showcased ADF activities, including a staged execution imitating Da’esh’ s," the report said.
Terrorists also adopted ethnic profiling, abducting hundreds of civilians and killing some of them, in retaliation against those collaborating with the FARDC, the Congolese army, since 2021.
“The abducted Hutu youth were forcibly recruited by the ADF to strengthen their ranks," the experts' report said.
The ADF intervened in North Kivu to cause the escape of 800 prisoners in August this year, of whom 400 to 600 were forcibly taken into the ranks of the terrorists.
"On 6 September 2022, a 17-year-old boy recruited by ADF collaborators planted an improvised explosive device in front of the Congolese National Intelligence Agency (ANR) office in Butembo. The explosion injured two ANR agents. This was the first attack involving an improvised explosive device aimed at a major target.
"This is the first attack involving an improvised explosive device aimed at a high-profile target in an urban environment," said the UN expert.
Yet against this backdrop of daily violence, the M23 rebels re-emerged in Rutshuru in North Kivu, posing a real security problem that has ultimately damaged relations between Rwanda and the DRC.
M23 rebels re-emergence
The Group of Experts says it found evidence of violations of the arms embargo and sanctions regime on the DRC, including and the direct intervention into DRC, either to reinforce the M23/ARC or to conduct military operations against the Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (FDLR)", who have been hiding in Congo since their defeat and escape in 1994 in Rwanda.
"The Panel has documented several incidents of bombing affecting the territories of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda and killing civilians and or damaging buildings and infrastructure," the report says.
Amid allegations and counter-allegations between Rwanda and DR, the French government this week joined the US in condemning Rwanda’s alleged support for M23. Paris called for Rwanda to abide by the decisions of the regional leaders calling for dialogue.
But Kigali fired back, first accusing Paris of ignoring the real causes of the conflict in DRC, and also accused Kinshasa of fabricating claims that M23 had massacred civilians.
“Attempting to manage complex situations by simply repeating and amplifying false allegations of the DRC government cannot lead to solutions,” said a statement from the Rwandan government on Wednesday.
“Notably, the sensationalised “Kishishe massacre”, a fabrication of the DRC government that it attributed to M23, has quickly spread without any investigation of the facts by any credible entity, despite indications that the incident was in fact an armed confrontation between M23 and illegal armed groups allied to FARDC. This is symbolic of how the mess in the DRC has been encouraged and sustained for decades.”
The massacres, however, had actually been proven in a preliminary report by the UN itself.
Arms embargo lifted
M23 had been fighting the FARDC and the UN stabilisation mission forces known as Monusco. Last week, the UN Security Council lifted an arms embargo on DRC, allowing the FARDC to buy weapons without seeking permission from the sanctions committee.
It also extended mandate of Monusco to December 20, 2023, with mandate to primarily protect civilians from rebel violence. On Friday, M23 announced they had withdrawn from occupied territories, allowing the EACRF to protect civilians who return to their lands.
Monusco will also work side by side with the East African Community Region Forces. But they have a huge load to clear.
The M23 decision was important because the rebels who had conquered several villages in Rutshuru territory had started to impose taxes on pedestrians entering and or leaving the Democratic Republic of Congo with goods at the Bunagana border, generating significant revenues. About 500 pedestrians carrying goods were crossing the DRC-Uganda border daily in mid-October 2022, each paying about USh7,000 ($1.80), the report notes.
The resurgence of the M23 had also led to “the nationwide proliferation of xenophobia and incitement to violence, particularly against Rwandan-speaking populations perceived to support the M23/ARC, has led to acts of violence, including killings," the report adds warns.
With regard to local armed groups, the experts report the expansion of areas controlled by the armed group Cooperative for the Development of Congo (CODECO).
"CODECO factions have continued to expand their areas of control, often attacking civilians and the FARDC. In turn, the Zaire armed group increased its organisation and strength and attacked Congolese security forces and civilians.
The CODECO factions and Zaire continued to fight over and profit from the exploitation and trade of gold. Both imposed taxes on goods, civilians and economic actors. Some elements of the FARDC continued to collaborate with the armed groups and benefited from the gold mining activities," experts say.