DRC rebels offer peace talks
Congolese rebels this past week said they want to sit down at the negotiating table with President Joseph Kabila amid reports of renewed fighting in eastern DRC.
Aid groups working in eastern DRC sounded the alarm when elements of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) attacked a town in the region.
ADF is a Uganda rebel movement based in eastern DRC. The area was seized briefly last year by the March 23 Movement but recaptured with the help of UN peacekeepers, who have a mandate to use force against rebels.
M23 rebel spokesman Amani Kabashi said it was time to sit down at the negotiating table with Kabila. He said they've been waiting six months to talk without any reciprocal efforts from the government in Kinshasa.
UN experts have accused the Rwanda and Uganda governments of supporting Congolese rebel groups. Both countries deny the charge.
Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame has said many of the problems in the DRC require political, not military, solutions.
UN peacekeepers have been on high alert for the past week, declaring readiness to use force to protect civilians in Goma from advancing M23 rebel troops.
The mission, known by its French acronym as MONUSCO, expressed “deep concern” about the latest bout of fighting which broke out after a significant group of the M23 attacked government forces on July 14 in Mutaho, eight kilometres northwest of Goma, in eastern DRC.
According to MONUSCO, heavy artillery and a battle tank were used in the attack.
“Any attempt by the M23 to advance toward Goma will be considered a direct threat to civilians,” the UN warned.
The Acting Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General in the DRC, Moustapha Soumaré, urged restraint by all parties.
“I call on all to abide by the Peace, Security and Co-operation Framework Agreement and to allow the political process towards peace to move forward,” Soumaré said.
This was in reference to the UN-brokered accord adopted in February 2013 with the support of 11 nations and four international organisations to help end the cycles of conflict plaguing the DRC and the wider Great Lakes region.
In the past week, the DRC government forces said they had killed 120 rebels and captured another dozen in fighting in North Kivu Province.
Government spokesperson Lambert Mende said on July 15 that about 10 government soldiers died.
Inhabitants of a village in eastern DRC say they saw armed men in women's clothing enter the country from Rwanda on July 14, shortly before fighting broke out nearby.
The fighting continued for a day.
This was the first heavy fighting at the front lines between government forces and M23 since May.
Many civilians in the rebel zone fled to the government side just before the fighting started.
A farmer, Bifumbo Ruhira, said he left his home in the rebel zone when he saw more than 100 combatants arrive in his village.
He said he saw many soldiers on board two trucks, and they were wearing women's shawls over their uniforms. One of them told the villagers they were Rwandan soldiers and they had come from Rwanda as reinforcements.
The trucks stopped on the Rwandan side of the border, he said, and the combatants had run across.
Another villager, Baraki Murefu, confirmed this account, saying the shawls were a disguise so that people would not see they were soldiers.
An M23 spokesman, Vianney Kazarama, denied the rebels had started the fighting and dismissed the story about armed men disguised as women.
“No, no, no,” he said. “That is the Congolese culture. They like rumors.”
He added that he does not know about the comings and goings at the frontier.
At the front, the M23 appears to be outgunned by the Congolese army.
Most of the mortar and rocket fire appeared to be coming from the government side
The M23 force is thought to be comprised of about 2 000 fighters.
The DRC army’s Colonel Jacky Zeng had a theory about why the M23 had launched the attack. “They do not want to be forgotten,” he said. “They are reminding us they exist.”
It may have been a costly reminder as the rebels suffered 120 casualties. –