The intensive conflict of recent months in the Kivus region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has given way to stalemate.
Amid a continuing dire humanitarian situation, alliances between various state and militia forces are shifting.
In a complex and unpredictable arena, one thing appears certain: the model of integrating militia groups into the Congolese army (FARDC) as a strategy for building peace in the region is discredited, given that its failure generated the current 'M23' rebellion.
Yet considerable uncertainty surrounds alternative strategies for long-term stability.
New alliances mean that any renewed Kivus fighting will probably be more complicated, and more explosive, than previous rounds.
New linkages will also make establishing an enlarged peacekeeping force even more difficult.
European donors have suspended -- not cancelled -- Rwanda's aid: their leverage makes it unlikely Rwanda would allow M23 to take Goma.
The military situation will probably not change significantly until any new international force is deployed, which is unlikely in 2012.
FARDC is currently incapable of mounting any significant offensive against M23, but the DRC government will not, in any event, negotiate with the group.
The most likely scenario for the foreseeable future is continuation, in parallel with military stalemate, of the current round of international diplomacy -- with Uganda gaining credit for its role in this.
After it captured a serious of major towns during its successful late June offensive, the M23 movement halted before Goma, the most significant sub-regional city.
It has avoided further engagements against FARDC, and during August an uneasy, undeclared truce has largely held (see CONGO-KINSHASA: Kigali will manage current tensions - July 24, 2012).
The immediate reason why fighting has subsided is battlefield overstretch on both sides:
When it mutinied in May, the Congolese Tutsi M23 rebels -- almost entirely comprising former members of the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) -- numbered only about 300.
Following the mid-July offensive, its leadership apparently concluded that the group needed to consolidate its position, including training new (voluntary and forced) recruits ill-prepared to engage in sustained operations.
Numerous reports have emerged of former CNDP training camps hosting major programmes, including on urban warfare -- as would be required in any future Goma battle.
The M23 offensive routed some FARDC battalions, including 600 troops who fled into Uganda after Bunagana town fell.
Only 300 FARDC troops responded to calls from the UN force, MONUSCO, for two battalions to deploy north of Goma.
This month, thousands of troops have begun to be redeployed from other parts of DRC into the Kivus.
The government has launched a nationwide recruitment drive aimed at adding up to 25,000 troops to FARDC's existing 105,000.
Despite some popular anger, eastern military defeats have not yet undermined President Joseph Kabila's position in Kinshasa politics, although he has been forced to adopt a tougher stance than hitherto vis-a-vis Rwanda (see CONGO-KINSAHSA: Kabila emerges strengthened from polls - May 29, 2012).
Another explanation for the current truce is undoubtedly the significant international pressure that Rwanda has experienced over its involvement in M23:
In late July, Rwanda published a 131-page rebuttal of a June UN expert group report outlining the multiple ways the Rwandan military supports M23.
The government called the expert group's leader a  genocide denier.
- Donor action.
Rwanda's development partners have reacted strongly to the report.
The Netherlands suspended 6.1 million dollars in aid payments, followed by the United Kingdom, which suspended 25 million dollars from its official grants to Rwanda (which total about 120 million dollars a year).
Germany followed (26 million), as did the African Development Bank (38.9 million).
Even staunch supporter Washington cut planned military expenditure for 2012, albeit only in a symbolic (200,000 dollar) way.
Despite President Paul Kagame's frequent claims to the contrary, Rwanda remains highly dependent on foreign aid.
It has persuaded M23 to refrain from further offensives and engaged in a new diplomatic round.
Following Kagame's mid-July meeting with Kabila in Addis Ababa (during which they agreed on a joint Kivus task-force), several further meetings have occurred in Khartoum, Kampala and Goma, including under the auspices of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region.
The result has been a region-wide agreement on deployment, by November, of a new 4,000-strong force with a joint UN-African Union mandate.
This is intended to work towards eradicating all 'negative influences' in the region, which would presumably include both M23 and the Hutu-extremist Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and other groups.
This is a very ambitious -- perhaps unrealistic -- aim.
Moreover, key details of the new force remain undecided.
Kabila has insisted that it use troops from outside the region, but questions remain over who will provide and pay for such troops, and their precise operational area (including whether the force would attempt to police the whole Kivus region or 'only' the troubled DRC-Uganda-Rwanda-Burundi borderlands).
A notable feature of the latest round of Great Lakes diplomacy has been Uganda's central role in all the negotiations:
In late July, rumours began circulating in Goma that Uganda was also supporting M23, and that its troops had been seen crossing the border to bolster rebel positions.
Such rumours are unlikely to be true.
Uganda continues to have strategic interests in the Kivus, including suppressing Ugandan-born Allied Democratic Forces rebels in North Kivu, and the security of major oil reserves recently discovered around Lake Albert.
Yet it is unlikely that Kampala would risk souring relations with Kinshasa at this time, given the importance of this relationship for Kampala's continued pursuit, inside Congolese territory, of the Lord's Resistance Army (see AFRICA: Anti-LRA moves may not be a US military trend - June 28, 2012).
Uganda says that border crossing reports probably related to the assisted repatriation of the 600 displaced FARDC soldiers.
Uganda's prominent position in recent negotiations is most probably a reflection of improving relations with Rwanda.
Since 2007 these have been increasingly cordial, a situation partly shaped by the fact that both Kagame and President Yoweri Museveni are experiencing growing donor fatigue (mainly reflecting Western perceptions that they are now overstaying their periods in office and becoming increasingly intolerant of opponents).
Kampala's role in recent diplomacy also partly reflects Museveni's attempts to cast himself as a senior regional statesman ahead of an anticipated future bid for the East African Community (EAC) presidency.
The military stalemate has prompted a shift in alliances:
A joint MONUSCO, FARDC and Congolese government delegation recently met an ethnic Mai-Mai militia, the APCLS (based in Masisi, North Kivu) in an effort to co-opt it against M23.
FARDC had previously attacked APCLS villages in apparent retribution for the group's refusal to integrate into FARDC in 2009.
M23 also seems to be forging new alliances with armed groups such as Raia Mutomboki (another Mai-Mai outfit, currently based near Walikale in North Kivu).
M23 members had hitherto considered Raia Mutomboki as enemies, given the latter's previously anti-Tutsi outlook.
The Rwandan and Ugandan militaries also appear to be reworking current alignments in the sub-region.
- Oxford Analytica
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