By Henry D Gombya in London and Diana S Katabarwa in Kampala
A Reuters report that a delayed UN-mediated peace deal aimed at ending two decades of conflict in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is due to be signed in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa next Sunday has been described by the M23 Movement as being similar to ‘arranging a wedding ceremony without the bride’.
In a message to The London Evening Post, the Movement’s Communications Chief, M Bertrand Bisiimwa said they had not been contacted about next weekend’s Addis Ababa signing ceremony and could not understand in what capacity they would be expected to attend if at all invited. “How can we be expected to sign a document whose contents we have no idea about?” M Bisiimwa wondered. He was answering questions we put to him wondering whether UN-sponsored travel sanctions against the M23 Movement’s leadership had been lifted to allow them to travel to Addis.
A Reuters report that was in circulation yesterday and was also picked up by the Uganda Government-owned New Vision newspaper said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had sent out invitations on Friday for the Feb. 24 signing ceremony and intended to travel to Ethiopia for the event. Reuters quoted the UN Secretary General’s spokesman, Martin Nesirky as saying: “All the invited presidents have committed to either be there or delegate power to sign.”
The Kampala-based New Vision newspaper quoted a twitter message from the Rwandan Deputy U.N. Ambassador Olivier Nduhungirehe who allegedly twitted that the “African Union, the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, Southern African Development Community Chairs, as well as 10 Heads of States of the region” would attend the signing ceremony.
The M23 Communications Chief said they don’t know in what capacity they would be expected to attend if invited. He also wondered how anyone could be expected to sign a document whose contents they have no idea about. “How can we be expected to sign as party to an agreement for a foreign ”intervention force” to come and ”neutralise” us?” he asked.
M Bisiimwa asked: “Who is this ”peace deal” being signed in agreement with since one of the main parties to the conflict is not involved in this arrangement? Those signing are not the parties to the conflict. This will achieve nothing in resolving the East DRC problems.” He said that the UN has either deliberately or because of reliance on biased reports from ‘experts’ failed to grasp the circumstances on the ground. “The M23 Movement cannot be wished away,” M Bisiimwa added.
Investigations carried out by The London Evening Post is now a well-armed military organisation with disciplined men and women that are in full control of Bunagana and Rumangabo areas of the Eastern DRC. When they captured Rumangabo, they ransacked the army garrison there which was the second largest garrison in the whole of the DRC. All the weapons and arms in that garrison are now in the hands of the M23. So are those they got after capturing Goma. As the DRC abandoned their posts on the approach of the M23 early this year, they abandoned all types of weapons a standing army can have and all fell in the hands of the M23.
Not only is the M23 Movement now well armed, its numbers have been boosted by an increasing number of fighters who are joining them from all regions of the country. What is taking place in Eastern DRC can be likened to what happened in Uganda in 1986 when the now ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) was about to capture Kampala. NRA fighters were joined by thousands at that time who were in areas still controlled by government soldiers. When they finally made their move to capture Kampala, no one could stop them.
The M23 Movement is receiving great support from the population in Kivu who provide them with information and are familiar with the terrain of Kivu. This is a Movement that is now well-armed, and their numbers have swollen since they withdrew from Goma last month. They have already embarked on an exercise to rebuild the areas they are now in control of, repairing roads, making it possible for people to go about their businesses and keeping law and order. Were the Mozambican, South African and Tanzanian soldiers to be sent against this group, this would be yet another bloody war on the hands of the UN Secretary General’s hands where the majority of the victims would be the very people they think they are going to protect.
Rwanda and Uganda are being dragged to the signing table by their collars and because they have been accused of supporting the M23. They find themselves in a tight corner. But they cannot contribute soldiers to engage M23 because both countries have the problem of ADF and FDLR rebels hiding in Eastern Congo and for this reason they must remain friendly to M23 in order for these rebel groups to be contained. With all this evidence right before their very eyes, one wonders whose idea it was to advise the UN Secretary General to go ahead with signing a peace deal in the Ethiopian capital this Sunday without the involvement of the other side, the M23 Movement.
Unlike many other rebel movements around the world, the M23 has been very open to what it is doing inside its own territory and its leaders have been open to journalists who want to find out the truth about what is going on there. They have not refused to answer any questions we have put to them. But the whole idea of reaching a ”peace deal” without them being involved at all is simply ridiculous.