Despite peace accord, DRC still on edge
26 February 2013, 16:09
Goma - Despite the signing of a Democratic Republic of Congo
peace accord on Sunday, this Central African country remains unsettled by signs
of a return to war.
The peace agreement, signed in Ethiopia by 11 neighbouring
countries and backed by the United Nations, elicited much praise from African
and other world leaders who said it points the way to stability in DRC.
But on the ground here in eastern DRC, there are signals
that fighting may soon erupt between the Congolese government and the M23
rebels. The regional peace accord is helpful but it does not have specifics to
immediately improve the tense security situation, said an expert on eastern DRC.
"I think it is a step in the right direction. But the
agreement is more a statement of principles than a concrete action plan. It is
lacking in details, such as what an oversight mechanism for its implementation
would look like," Jason Stearns, a DRC specialist for the Rift Valley
Institute, said to The Associated Press.
The agreement did not mention the much-awaited intervention
forces that would come to reinforce the UN peacekeeping troops in eastern DRC,
nor did it state how a drone force could patrol the border.
Another problem is that no conclusion has been reached in
the negotiations between the M23 rebels and the Kinshasa government of
President Joseph Kabila.
Instead the M23 rebels appear to be positioning themselves
for a new attack. And the Congolese government is making alliances with other
rebel militias. The result is that eastern DRC remains tense and unsettled.
Just over three months ago, on Nov. 20, the M23, who are
allegedly backed by neighbouring Rwanda, seized this strategic city of 1
million and threatened to take the rest of mineral-rich eastern Congo. Two
weeks later, as a result of international pressure and the Congolese army's
pledge to negotiate, the rebels withdrew from Goma. But now it appears the
rebels are poised to strike again.
The rebels have reinforced their positions and are just 3km
from Goma airport. Rebel soldiers are visible along the road from Goma to
Rutshuru, unbothered by the daily patrols of the UN peacekeepers.
Little progress has been made in the negotiations between
the rebels and the Kabila government that have been going on for two months in
Kampala, Uganda, said Stanislas Baleke, an M23 official.
The M23's nearly one-year-old rebellion is led by fighters
who defected from the Congolese army. They are from an earlier rebel group and
complain that the DRC government did not properly implement a previous peace
accord signed on March 23, 2009. The M23 take their name from the date of that
Neither the rebels nor the Congolese government are willing
to compromise on their demands. The rebels' insist that President Joseph Kabila
must resign and be replaced by a transitional government that would run the
country while new elections are organised, say experts following the talks.
"The M23 has political ambitions that DRC does not want
to discuss. And the government wants the arrest of the top five M23 leaders,
which is a completely unacceptable condition for the rebels. The talks will go
nowhere," said Stearns, the author of "Dancing in the Glory of
Monsters" and a DRC expert.
Last month several high-ranking M23 officers were called
back from the Kampala negotiations to the rebels headquarter in Rutshuru, DRC,
as the armed group is planning new operations, according to rebel sources.
When the M23 rebels seized Goma in November, the UN
peacekeepers were harshly criticized because they failed to defend the city,
the capital of North Kivu province. The UN has 17 000 troops in Congo, its
largest mission in the world, but they do not have the authority to intervene
to stop fighting, only to protect the civilian population.
Meanwhile, the Congolese army is enrolling new recruits
throughout the country and has been forging new alliances with other militia
forces in North Kivu province.
Since the creation of the M23 last year, many areas North
Kivu have suffered from a security vacuum as the army has focused its forces on
fighting the M23 and has ignored the several other militias operating in the
Aware that it cannot fight several fronts at once, and
playing on the anti-Rwandan feelings of these militias, the army has forged
alliances with them. The army has supplied the militias with weapons and
ammunition, with the agreement they will fight alongside the regular forces,
according to a Congolese colonel speaking on condition of anonymity because he
is not authorised to speak to the press.
"The M23's main problem is its lack of weapons and
troops. So if the army can gather more men, they would have the upper
hand," explained DRC analyst Stearns. "Militia proxys are a very
crude tool for the Congolese army to use, but they are very efficient as
Armed by the Congolese army, the militias have started
patrolling the muddy tracks running around the hills of Masisi, and are
terrorizing the local population with impunity, according to residents. The
undisciplined militias stir up ethnic rivalries, force children into their
ranks and claim taxes, report residents.
"Our army is weak, they cannot protect us, and now they
are letting the armed groups do their job. They have no discipline and they
create trouble for us. They are drunk most of the time," said a Felicite,
who would only give her first name because she feared reprisals.
North of Rutshuru, the M23's stronghold, the army is also
using local militias to regain territory it had lost in recent months.
"The army sees us as cows. They push us ahead to regain
territory and they come after us to settle in the areas we have retaken from
our enemies," said Colonel Moise Visika, the second-in-command of the Mai
Mai Shetani, a local militia in the areas of Ishasha and Nyamilima.
The city of Goma remains vulnerable. Few government troops
came back to Goma after the M23 rebels withdrew from the town, leaving the city
susceptible to an M23 comeback despite the presence of the UN peacekeepers.
The result of all these factors is that, despite Sunday's
peace agreement, eastern DRC remains threatened by a return to conflict, say
"The overall situation is volatile and
precarious," said Roger Meece, the head of the UN peacekeeping mission in
Congo, speaking to the Security Council on Friday. He said that eastern DRC "could
break down at any time into large-scale conflict without much, if any, prior