DR Congo's M23 rebel leader heads to Uganda for withdrawal talks (+video)

M23's reported connections with Uganda and Rwanda complicate a resolution in eastern Congo.

By , Staff writer

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    A woman carries her child in Minova, some 28 miles west of Goma November 26, 2012. Congo said on Sunday it would not negotiate with M23 rebels in the east until they pulled out of the city of Goma, but a rebel spokesman said Kinshasa was in no position to set conditions on peace talks.
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The leader of the Congolese rebel group M23, which sacked the city of Goma a week ago, is set to meet officials in neighboring Uganda for negotiations over the group's withdrawal. But various reports indicate that M23 is operating under the auspices of the Rwandan government, suggesting that a resolution to the immediate crisis may require international pressure as well.

An M23 spokesman told Reuters that Col. Sultani Makenga, leader of M23, will meet with Ugandan defense chief Aronda Nyakayirima in the capital of Kampala on Monday to discuss M23's withdrawal from Goma. The Ugandan military could not immediately confirm M23's claim to Reuters, but stated that such negotiations were ongoing. 

"I am not aware of his arrival but I wouldn't be surprised if he were here because meetings have been going on and since Aronda has been tasked to coordinate the withdrawal (from Goma) he would need to talk to him (Makenga)," military spokesman Felix Kulayigye said.

Reports indicate that M23 and Congolese officials met on Sunday as well. The Associated Press writes that Ugandan Defense Minister Crispus Kiyonga said he was overseeing negotiations between the two sides, and Rene Abandi, M23's head of external relations, told AP that M23 representatives attended a two-hour meeting with Congolese President Joseph Kabila and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on Sunday, a day after a regional summit in Uganda that called upon M23 to withdraw from Goma. The DR Congo government denies involvement in any negotiations.

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The resolution of the situation in eastern Congo is complicated due to the M23's connections with both Uganda and Rwanda. A United Nations report released last week asserts that both countries are providing support to the rebels, with the Rwandan military in active command of the group. AP writes that both Rwanda and Uganda have repeatedly denied supporting the M23 movement and have faced little international criticism over the allegations, but the report is apt to increase pressure on both countries.

The highly anticipated report from the U.N. Group of Experts said both Rwanda and Uganda have "cooperated to support the creation and expansion of the political branch of M23 and have consistently advocated on behalf of the rebels. M23 and its allies include six sanctioned individuals, some of whom reside in or regularly travel to Rwanda and Uganda."

The document said that Rwanda is funneling weapons, providing direct troop reinforcements to the M23 rebels, facilitating recruitment and encouraging desertions from the Congolese armed forces. The de facto chain of command of M23 ends with Rwandan Defense Minister Gen. James Kabarebe, the report said.

A weekend report from The Daily Telegraph provides further evidence of Rwandan involvement with M23, as two men told of their experiences working with the group and Rwandan soldiers.

Jean-Paul Nsengiyumva (not his real name) served as an NCO with a regular Rwandan infantry battalion until June, when he was transferred to a "special battalion" created to fight in Congo. After being briefed by one of Rwanda's most senior generals at Gako Military Academy, his unit was sent to back up Congo's rebels.

"At that time, M23 did not have many soldiers, so when the fighting was hard, they were calling us for help. Then we would come over the border and take the town," he said. "When we finished, we would pull back to Rwanda and allow M23 to occupy the area." Three times, his unit went over the frontier and into battle at M23's request, helping to seize the border crossing at Bunagana and two other towns. In September, however, Nsengiyumva's unit was deployed to bolster an M23 assault on a big Congolese army camp. This battle was tougher than expected – two attacks were beaten off and Rwandan forces with their rebel allies only succeeded at their third attempt.

Similarly, another man, identified by the pseudonym Nsengimana Ngaruye, described his time working as a porter for the Rwandan army at a base inside Congo.

"They used to tell us, 'Your enemy is the government of Congo, we need you to fight them and once we take over the country, you will get rewarded'." Ngaruye said the camp was filled with Rwandan soldiers and Congolese rebels, although a colonel in the Rwandan army was in command. He never fought, but carried ammunition and supplies whenever an attack was launched. In September, he deserted. He surrendered to the Congolese army and was also jailed in Goma until being freed last week.

The Telegraph also points out that Rwanda is the beneficiary of large amounts of aid from foreign governments, including 75 million pounds ($120 million) from Britain. While that aid is specifically dedicated to non-military purposes, the Telegraph notes that "by subsidising Rwanda's government, Britain risks giving [Rwandan President Paul] Kagame more discretion. He could rely on outside donors, who provide 46 per cent of his national budget, to fund essential services and use his own resources in other ways," such as militarily.

In a commentary for the Guardian, journalist Ian Birrell criticizes both Rwanda and its foreign patrons, including Britain. "Britain and America in particular have lionised a regime guilty of ghastly internal repression and gruesome foreign adventurism, with catastrophic consequences for millions of Congolese," Mr. Birrell writes. "After weeks of prevarication, Britain has finally admitted evidence of Rwandan support for M23 was 'credible'. Now we must make up for supporting this monstrous regime by cutting all aid, imposing tough sanctions and seeking war crimes proceedings against Kagame and his senior officials."

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