Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Introducing the Congolese Revolutionary Army

Voice of America reports

DRC's M23 Rebels Under Pressure

                        M23 volunteers at Rumangabo training camp in North Kivu province, DRC, October 8, 2012. (N. Long/VOA)

GOMA, DRC — International pressure is mounting on the M23 rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo and their alleged backers. Following the release of a Human Rights Watch report that accused the rebels of war crimes, the United Nations Security Council said it intends to apply targeted sanctions against the M23’s leaders and those sending them arms.

Not really, what sanctions can be applied against the rebels, there is already an arms embargo in place that is being subverted. Where to next, action against Rwanda remains a possibility. The rebels have no interest in international travel so a travel ban won't work.   

The M23 on Monday gave its small force of less than 2,000 combatants a new name -- the Congolese Revolutionary Army.

That speaks volumes for the political ambitions of the group. This is an attempt to gain legitimacy in the eyes of the world. It is not for domestic consumption.

Rebel spokesman Vianney Kazerama told VOA that despite having few fighters, M23 has been able to defeat much larger government forces because it has a cause.

He denied reports from U.N. experts that the M23 has been reinforced by the Rwandan army.

Despite a massive  amount of evidence to the contrary. Whilst I have little doubt that Rwanda has been arming the rebels as well, questions need to asked about just how motivated the Congolese military.

He said the group's leaders, when they were in a previous rebel movement, signed a peace agreement with the government on March 23, 2009, which the government did not respect.

That accord called for the government army to neutralize the Rwandan Hutu rebels that have been in the Congo for nearly two decades after many of them took part in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

The accord also called for better governance, for a good integration of Congolese rebels into the army and political life, and for the return of some 55,000 Congolese refugees from Rwanda, many of whom have been there for more than a decade.

The Congolese refugees in Rwanda are mostly of the Tutsi ethnic group, as are most of the M23’s commanders and many of its rank and file.

The M23 is a successor movement to other Tutsi-dominated rebellions that conquered parts of the DRC in recent civil wars and aroused strong antagonism among many people.

Since the M23 launched its rebellion earlier this year it is blamed for destabilizing the whole of North Kivu province, where 320,000 people have fled their homes since May.  The group controls only a strip of territory about 120 kilometers from north to south along the borders with Uganda and Rwanda, but has shown it can defeat the regular army.

That is an interesting statement I don't think the army are interested in fighting, but M23 have been bested by the rangers from Virunga National Park.  Here's a thought though, Congo airpower 

" As of 2007, all military aircraft in the Democratic Republic of the Congo were operated by the Air Force. Jane's World Air Forces states that the Air Force has an estimated strength of 1,800 personnel and is organised into two Air Groups. These Groups command five wings and nine squadrons, of which not all are operational. 1 Air Group is located at Kinshasa and consists of Liaison Wing, Training Wing and Logistical Wing and has a strength of five squadrons. 2 Tactical Air Group is located at Kaminia and consists of Pursuit and Attack Wing and Tactical Transport Wing and has a strength of four squadrons. Foreign private military companies have reportedly been contracted to provide the DRC's aerial reconnaissance capability using small propeller aircraft fitted with sophisticated equipment. Jane's states that People's Air and Air Defence Force of Angola fighter aircraft would be made available to defend Kinshasa if it came under attack."

In other words a joke but Pablo at Kiwipolitico points out,

 " I have discussed in various fora the military, intelligence, domestic security and political implications of their use now and in the future. The hard fact is that, bad press notwithstanding, UAVs (aka “drones”) are here to stay and will dominate the air space in the years to come."

This technology is at this well beyond the M23 but not beyond the Congolese government and how long would M23 last against this sort of attack, the psychological effect would be huge. Fairly hard to hide from a missile. Infra-red is bloody useful in jungle situations.

M23 is accused by Human Rights Watch of deliberately killing 15 civilians since June and of executing 33 of its own combatants for trying to desert.

Several of the M23’s leaders are also accused of having command responsibility for massacres, forced recruitment, rape and torture between 2004 and 2008 when they were serving with previous rebel movements.

That would seem likely.

M23 denies the war crimes charges. A civilian spokesman for the movement, Maitre Muhire, spoke to VOA at the rebels' headquarters in Bunagana.

"I’ve read the Human Rights Watch report and what I found is it’s based just on rumors, because those allegations don’t give the area where the supposed crime has been committed, they don’t say the names of the victims, they don’t mention anything which really can be a proof that the crime has been committed," said Muhire.

Muhire said the Congolese NGO which carried out the field work for the report is biased against the movement. He said the M23 has asked for a neutral investigation supervised by the U.N.  He also invited journalists to check out the allegations themselves.

I think he might find that the UN has already done that.

Human Rights Watch and other sources report that the rebels have threatened to kill people who speak out against the movement.

A number of civilians who approached by VOA in areas under M23’s control were reluctant to talk about the rebels’ record, while others complained about soldiers extorting food and other items. Hardly anyone, except one or two who had joined the movement, were singing its praises. 

As I said above the name change is not for domestic consumption.

The M23 arranged for VOA to visit a training camp and meet about 20 men who had recently joined the movement.  Nearly all of these men were in civilian dress and from their age and background it seemed likely that they had volunteered to work as civilian cadres, rather than as soldiers.

I am guessing it is more likely they don't have uniforms or weapons available yet but Rwanda is bound to be coming up with some inept plans to achieve that.

One officer who recently deserted from the Congolese army and gave his name as Douglas was an exception.

He said he had deserted because there was tribal hatred against his people in the army and other soldiers wanted to eradicate them.

A U.S.-based Congolese analyst, Jason Stearns, says incidents in which Tutsi soldiers in the Congolese army have been threatened or murdered by their comrades have helped to spark off repeated rebellions among the Tutsi community.

Stearns also reports that the M23 has recruited hundreds more combatants since its last major clashes with the army in August.  VOA was not allowed walk around the training camp to see any of these new recruits.  Human Rights watch alleges that many of them were recruited by force, many are under 18 and some are under 15.

Hard to judge but I doubt it.

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