Negotiations between the M23 rebels and the Kinshasa government have resumed today, after they were suspended over Christmas.
The suspension followed talks that had failed to conclude in a ceasefire agreement being signed, but it seems likely that the renewed talks will also end in stalemate.
The Congolese government refuses to sign any ceasefire, claiming any agreement will formalise the balkanization of the country. The M23 Movement, however, say that they are keen to sign a ceasefire and return peace to the East of the country.
On the eve of the resumption of these negotiations, the M23 rebels held a press conference at Bunagana, about 100 km from Goma, on the border with Uganda. Its president, Jean Marie Runiga, discussed the military situation and sanctions of the UN Security Council, as well as about the talks that were to start in Kampala, Uganda, the following day.
Regarding the military situation on the ground, the M23 accused the Congolese government to strengthen its military presence around the areas it controls. They accused the Congolese government of collaborating with the Rwandan rebel group, FDLR, on numerous occasions. Such allegations have been denied by the Congolese government.
Colonel Olivier Hamuli, a spokesman for the Congolese military, told The Foreign Report this morning that the M23 were in fact collaborating with the Rwandan rebel group. He said: “This is the M23 collaborating with the FDLR. Moreover, Rwanda was attacked by the FDLR from areas under their control. They are all negative forces and we cannot work with them.”
Independent sources have also suggested that M23 positions may be have been reinforced by three battalions of Rwandan army in Kibumba and Ugandan forces in the territory of Beni. The M23 stringently denies outside supports. Bertrand Bisimwa, political spokesman of M23: “Us alone, we are able to overcome. When we took Goma we recovered important ammunition. With this, we can repel any attack without help from the outside.”
In the last week, two of the leaders of the M23 were sanctioned by the UN Security, a move that the Congolese government said it was pleased with. A government spokesman, Lambert Mende, said: “We now hope that these sanctions take an effective form.”
On M23 side, a feeling of regrets is expressed. Regrets mixed with a certain carelessness. Jean Marie Runiga, president of the M23 and General Badege are banned from traveling outside of the DRC and have had their assets abroad frozen. These sanctions seem unlikely to have a noticeable effect on the M23 leaders, or the rebel group as a whole.
Jean Marie Runiga did not seem concerned by the sanctions: “Even if I was forbidden to go to America and I can go to Kinshasa and Rutshuru, it does not bother me. But an independent commission has to be set up to investigate the case. We still have the right to be heard before such sanctions. Why punish us and forget Bashar al Assad, the Syrian president?”
All eyes will be turned towards Kampala for resume this January 4, 2013 M23-government negotiations under the mediation of ICGRL. There is a general air of pessimism, and few people truly believe these negotiations will be successful given that Uganda and Rwanda are accused of supporting the rebels. The people simply expect another impasse.
The Congolese government refuses to sign any ceasefire if the M23 is there, but Jean Marie Runiga has threatened to recall his delegation from Kampala if the government does not sign.
In an attempt to resolve the deadlock, the government requested that the mediation be made by the President of Congo-Brazzaville, Denis Sasu Nguesso. The M23 claimed they had not officially been informed of this.
The negotiations, if successful, will be a landmark moment in the history of DR Congo. In one of his speeches, Congolese President Joseph Kabila called for 2013 to be a year of peace for the entire population, but the M23 reasserts the need for change first; only then can peace be declared.