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Congo-Kinshasa: M23 Rebels to Lay Down Arms in East CongoBy Jessie Wingard, 5 November 2013
After crushing M23, Kinshasa sets sights on Hutu rebels
Further fighting in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo was already in the offing with the government pledging to eradicate Rwandan Hutu fighters, who include the remnants of the militia that carried out the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.
An offensive is "being planned, but we cannot announce it", an army spokesman for the eastern North Kivu region, Lieutenant-Colonel Olivier Amuli, told AFP Wednesday.
Government spokesman Lambert Mende said the M23 was only the first of a plethora of well-armed and organised groups -- numbering as many as 45, according to the US special envoy for the region -- in Kinshasa's sights.
"The M23 was at the top of the list; they were replaced by the FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda). We will get on with disarming them," Mende said Tuesday.
Kinshasa has been repeatedly accused of using the FDLR as pawns in a complex proxy war with neighbouring Rwanda and Uganda, in turn accused of backing groups such as the M23.
The rebels' crushing defeat appeared to signal that the minority Tutsi-led Rwandan government had finally yielded to intense diplomatic pressure and chosen to abandon its alleged proxy.
Among the demands of the M23 in peace talks that collapsed in the Ugandan capital Kampala last month was the neutralisation of the FDLR, which they say regularly harasses the Tutsi community.
The Rwandan government has adamantly denied supporting the M23, made up mainly of ethnic Tutsis who speak the main Rwandan language Kinyarwanda.
Rwanda awaits results
Human Rights Watch also called on Kinshasa and the UN force MONUSCO to "address the threat posed by other abusive armed groups" in the lawless region where human rights abuses including rape, murder and recruiting child soldiers are commonplace.
And it called for the arrest and prosecution of M23 leaders for war crimes in "fair, credible trials".
The head of MONUSCO, Martin Kobler, said he had "warned the other armed groups... not to take advantage... of the current void" left by the M23 or face action by the UN troops tasked with protecting civilians.
At closed talks in New York, Kobler was quoted as saying that the UN force would reinforce its positions "to avoid flows of arms across the border, to avoid the FDLR crossing to Rwanda."
Rwanda, a temporary Security Council member, made it clear it would not hesitate to send troops over the border into DR Congo if Kinshasa failed to stamp out the FDLR.
"Rwanda remains fully prepared to use all necessary means to protect its people and territory," its UN envoy Eugene Richard Gasana was quoted as saying during the same meeting.
Kobler had also stressed it was vital to "finalise the next stages of the agreement discussed in Kampala" to address the grievances of the former Tutsi rebels.
The issue of amnesty was central when the last round of talks broke down.
In Jomba, as well as in nearby Chengerero, farming towns north of the regional hub Goma from where the M23 launched their rebellion, few Tutsis could be found.
'No Tutsis or Hutus, just Congolese'
One who gave his name only as Ferecien said he and his wife and three children returned home after hearing that the M23 had surrendered. He said the provincial governor had issued a statement saying that there were "no Tutsis, or Hutus or Nande, just Congolese".
The disbanding of the M23 marks the clearest and most significant military victory for the Congolese government since the 1963 crushing of a separatist rebellion in the southern province of Katanga.
Analysts say better preparation by the Congolese troops and the unprecedented offensive mandate granted to a special UN brigade tipped the military balance.
The heavily armed 3,000-strong UN intervention brigade joined 17,000 MONUSCO peacekeepers already deployed with a mission to stamp out the armed groups.
The UN humanitarian agency OCHA said more than 35,000 people who had fled the fighting would begin returning home, and warned of the dangers posed to civilians by "large quantities of unexploded ordnance".
The powder-keg North and South Kivu region, with its patchwork of ethnic groups and vast mineral resources, saw the birth of the 1996 Rwandan-backed rebellion that toppled Mobutu Sese Seko and installed Laurent-Desire Kabila, the father of the current president.
The region was also the detonator of the 1998-2003 conflict known as the Great African War, which involved nine countries and claimed more than 2.5 million lives.
The 1994 genocide in Rwanda saw 800,000 people, mainly minority Tutsis, slaughtered by the military and Hutu militias.
After Congo rebels end fight, challenges remain
In mineral-rich eastern Congo, wracked by violence for nearly two decades by a myriad of armed groups, the government's victory over the M23 rebels brings only cautious optimism.
"I am not sure this is the end of the M23. I learned that they had fled to Rwanda —that's where they came from. They could come back," Kazingufu said Wednesday as he worked on reconstructing his home with wooden planks.
The 19-month rebellion forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes, many of whom have sought refuge too many times before. Now the government must disarm the M23 fighters and negotiate with other renegade militias to establish a sustainable peace, experts say.
On Wednesday, the Congolese flag again flew in Chanzu, the former fief of M23 leader Sultani Makenga, who is believed to have fled the country as his movement disintegrated. Congolese authorities found a stash of some 300 tons of weapons left behind there, Gov. Julien Paluku said.
M23's promise to end its rebellion "signals an important milestone," said Tariq Riebl, Oxfam's humanitarian coordinator for Congo, adding that attention must now shift to eliminating other threats to civilians.
"The demise of one group doesn't spell the end of conflict in the country's east," he said.
"Now, more than ever, the Congolese government and international community must take steps to ensure that other groups don't move in to fill the space left by the disbanding of M23."
On Wednesday, the head of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Congo pledged to do just that.
"Armed groups should know that we're not going to leave a void. We are going to respond with force against all threats to the civilian population," Martin Kobler said.
The greatest remaining menace comes from the FDLR, a group led by Rwandan Hutus who helped commit the 1994 genocide and later escaped to Congo. The presence of the FDLR has prompted Rwanda to invade Congo twice before in an attempt to wipe out the group. It also has provoked a series of Congolese Tutsi rebellions, including the latest one launched by M23 in April 2012.
While the FDLR has weakened in recent years, analysts say it is still well entrenched and its presence in eastern Congo is a reason many of the other armed groups say they exist.
Even as the Congolese military celebrated its victory, attention began shifting to the tasks now ahead to secure the peace.
Kobler briefed a closed meeting of the U.N. Security Council in New York by videolink, and China's U.N. Ambassador Liu Jieyi, the council president, said members will be responding with "a very important message" to help countries in the region achieve peace and security on a wide scale.
France's U.N. Ambassador, Gerard Araud, said his country will circulate a draft presidential statement later Wednesday.
"This success is only the beginning," Araud said. "M23 combatants must now be disarmed. The Congolese administration needs to get back to the areas that were recovered and provide basic services to the population. All other armed groups beside the M23 which threaten civilians in the Kivus need to be neutralized ... and finally the states of the region must deal with the root causes of the conflict."
Rwanda's U.N. ambassador, Eugene Richard Gasana, said the Congolese army and U.N. peacekeeping troops, including its new intervention brigade, must go after the FDLR immediately. "Otherwise I won't let them sleep," he said.
Congo's U.N. Ambassador, Ignace Gata, told reporters his country wants a durable peace. "Today we are happy to have ended the rebellion, but we know the work is not finished."
Russ Feingold, special envoy for the Great Lakes Region of Africa and Congo, said in a conference call with U.S. State Department reporters Wednesday in Washington that an agreement has been negotiated with the M23 and could be signed this week or early next week in Uganda.
That agreement has "very specific provisions" for how the group will be disarmed and protected from other fighters operating in the region. The Congolese government also must resolve the issue of who will be eligible for amnesty and reintegration.
"If this agreement goes through the way I hope it will and believe it will, it will only provide amnesty for the rank-and-file members of M23 for purposes for having been part of a rebellion," he said.
It marks a change from 2009, when a previous agreement with rebels allowed even those accused of committing major crimes to come back into the Congolese military.
Human Rights Watch has accused the M23 fighters of killing scores of civilians and forcibly recruiting child soldiers, among other abuses. Many of the rebel group's leaders are now believed to have fled into neighboring Uganda and Rwanda.
Congo's government and a U.N. group of experts have long said neighboring Rwanda has provided weapons and other support to M23, a claim the Rwandan government denies.
It remains to be seen how much sway M23's military command still has over its rebels and whether they all will abide by the order to lay down their arms, said Timo Mueller, a Goma-based researcher with the Enough Project, an advocacy group active in eastern Congo.
"M23 soldiers need to disarm and to disarm they need security guarantees," he said. "It's important that the army does not resort to revenge killings and also the wider Tutsi community has to be protected."
Without full disarmament, there is a risk that the M23 could simply return with the same members only in another shape or form. The M23 itself emerged in April 2012 in the wake of a previous Tutsi rebellion. By November 2012, they swept into Goma and briefly held the city of 1 million people, only to retreat under international pressure.
In the aftermath of the Goma siege, internal divisions mounted within M23. The group was substantially weakened after its leader, Bosco Ntaganda, turned himself in to face charges at the International Criminal Court earlier this year.
The Congolese army succeeded in defeating the M23 because it reorganized to become a stronger, more competent force and it received logistical support from U.N. forces that had stronger rules of engagement, analyst said. Another crucial factor was that Rwanda's aid to the rebels substantially diminished during this latest round of clashes, they said.
In the town of Kibati, Emmanuel Kazingufu said he hopes the end to hostilities this time would be followed up with meaningful dialogue that will bring a lasting peace.
"Building and rebuilding is too tiring," he said as he put back up the walls of his home.
Larson reported from Dakar, Senegal. Associated Press writers Saleh Mwanamilongo in Kinshasa, Congo; Deb Riechmann in Washington; and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.
DR Congo's Bunagana town 'empty' as army presses M23
The government on Monday rejected the M23 rebel group's call for a ceasefire.
At least 800,000 people have fled their homes since the conflict began in March 2012.
Other BBC reporters in the area say the rebels seem to be fighting back more fiercely than on previous days.
The M23 rebels were routed from its main bases by DR Congo's army, a force generally known for its indiscipline, inefficiency and corruption.
When the M23 took control of Goma in November 2012 it embarrassed the government and put pressure on the international community after human rights violations emerged.
President Joseph Kabila made changes to the military hierarchy and troops fighting in the east.
"Victory, Victory," soldiers in the nearby town of Ntamugenga chanted after receiving a radio message that Mbuzi was under government control, a journalist with the AFP news agency reports from the scene.
Government forces are now targeting three other hilltops, where dozens of rebels are hiding, an army official told AFP.
Shells fired by the M23 have fallen on both sides of the border, with at least four people killed and 17 wounded in DR Congo, various sources have told the BBC.
They said the shells had landed on a market and a police station in Bunagana.
The M23 should also give up its weapons, he said, in a statement.
However, the government was prepared to give the M23 "one last chance", Mr Mende added, without elaborating.
BBC Africa security correspondent Moses Rono says the defeat of the M23 would send a powerful message to at least 10 other rebel groups operating in the area.
They took up arms once more in April 2012, accusing the government of not respecting the agreement.
Rwanda and Uganda deny Congolese and UN claims that they have supported the M23 rebels.
UN to reinforce DR Congo borders after rebel defeat
France, the United States and other leading UN Security Council members widely welcomed the rout of M23 at talks on the conflict-stricken country.
But Rwanda, a temporary Security Council member closely implicated in the conflict across its border, called for a new focus on rebels which oppose its government.
Martin Kobler, UN representative to DR Congo said the UN peacekeeping mission, officially known as MONUSCO, would strengthen border positions to stop ethnic Hutu rebels of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) crossing into Rwanda.
"We need to reinforce MONUSCO positions near the border to avoid flows of arms across the border, to avoid the FDLR crossing to Rwanda," Kobler was quoted as telling the closed meeting.
UN troops, a new special intervention force, backed an offensive by government forces that this week defeated M23 rebels who launched an uprising in eastern DR Congo in early 2012.
Rwanda has warned that it remains ready to intervene in DR Congo, and this message was reinforced by its UN envoy Eugene Richard Gasana. Rwanda is particularly enraged by FDLR operations across the border.
"Rwanda remains fully prepared to use all necessary means to protect its people and territory," Gasana told the meeting.
Afterwards, Gasana told reporters the Security Council should order the intervention brigade in DR Congo to take on the FDLR and other armed groups.
"This is a genocidal force which is there," Gasana said. The FDLR is made up of remnants of Hutu extremists blamed for the 1994 genocide in Rwanda in which an estimated 800,000 people died.
But the DR Congo government victory was widely praised at the closed meeting.
UN peace envoy Mary Robinson told ambassadors the M23 defeat was a "very special moment" in efforts to halt decades of conflict in eastern DR Congo.
"The wolf at the door, the M23, was threatening civilians, was threatening MONUSCO. We hope that the threat of this wolf at the door is now gone for good," US ambassador Samantha Power commented, according to envoys.
France's UN envoy Gerard Araud told reporters the defeat of M23 was "a success for the Congolese army and for the United Nations."
But he added that the M23 fighters had to be disarmed, the government must re-establish its authority in rebel areas, there had to be more work on a political accord among countries around DR Congo and there must be a new fight against other armed groups.
Araud highlighted the FDLR, Mai-Mai militias and the ADF-Nalu (Allied Democratic Forces-National Army for the Liberation of Uganda), Islamist militants who UN experts have linked to Al-Qaeda backed Shebab in Somalia.
The French envoy said the FDLR was a "legitimate" concern for the Rwandan government, which has been accused in the past of aiding M23.
DR Congo's UN ambassador Ignaca Gata said the government now wanted to "eradicate all of the negative forces" in the eastern region.
Gata added that the government wants to complete an accord with remnants of the M23 that is being negotiated in Kampala.
He said it could allow for some M23 fighters to be integrated into the national army but this would be decided on "a case-by-case" basis.