DRC peace talks halt as M23 split deepens
By GAAKI KIGAMBO
• The split in M23 ranks deepened further last week, when the breakaway faction set up a parallel administration and announced it was willing to cut a deal with Kinshasa.
Peace negotiations between the government of the DR Congo and M23 rebels, which have been going on in Kampala for the past month, have broken down owing to the split in the rebel group.
Now, Uganda’s Minister of Defence Crispus Kiyonga, who is the chief facilitator of the talks, needs to establish which of the two splinter groups represents the grievances of eastern Congo.
The split in M23 ranks deepened further last week, when the breakaway faction set up a parallel administration and announced it was willing to cut a deal with Kinshasa.
Meanwhile, the original wing, led by Bishop Jean-Marie Runiga who was deposed by his chief of staff General Sultani Makenga, is appealing to Kampala to find a solution that will keep DRC President Kabila at the negotiating table, given the dwindling incentives for him to pursue peace in the face of the apparent split.
After several days of armed clashes in which an unspecified number of people died, the rebel group split last week when General Sultani Makenga, hitherto its chief of staff, dismissed Bishop Runiga over charges of “financial embezzlement, divisions, ethnic hatred, deceit, and political immaturity” all of which, according to a communiqué he released, amounted to “high treason”.
In an escalation of tensions, the Makenga-led group announced a “new” political-military structure on March 7, headed by Bertrand Bisimwa, hitherto M23’s spokesperson.
Mr Bisimwa pledged to reintegrate with Kinshasa, both politically and militarily, as early as March 15, the day the Kampala talks were slated to officially end.
Senior ranking officers within Bishop Runiga’s faction told The EastAfrican that President Joseph Kabila, whom they accuse of infiltrating and bribing the breakaway faction, plans to sign a deal with them as the official rebel group.
President Kabila made a private visit to Kampala last week where the progress with the Makenga faction was one of the issues discussed.
“We have information that the two [President Kabila and Mr Makenga] have been collaborating and that they plan to enter a deal.
Although we have no problem with him [Makenga] integrating, we think it is a wrong move for the president to do so because it does not solve the underlying problems we have been talking about,” Francois Rucogoza, M23’s former executive secretary and head of the delegation to Kampala, said.
“We are requesting the mediator, Uganda’s President Museveni, to persuade the government of Kinshasa to demonstrate more political will to resolve this problem peacefully,” he added.
There has been little activity since February 6 when the two parties signed a review of the March 23, 2009 agreement that precipitated the fall out and formation of the rebel group in April last year.
The talks were supposed to tackle security reforms but both sides were said to be taking unreasonable stances.
“The Congolese government can’t seriously think that the M23 will allow many of the top commanders of their movement to be arrested or sidelined, and the M23 are making claims about state and army reforms that go far beyond the remit of the talks,” said Jason Stearns, who has researched the conflict in eastern Congo.