Rebels and Congo army clash; Rwanda says it was shelled
GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo |
(Reuters) - Congo's M23 rebels clashed with government troops for the first time in nearly two months on Friday, and neighboring Rwanda said Congolese army shells had landed on its territory, raising tensions in the volatile region.
I dealt with the issue of shells landing in Rwanda in my last blog, I would be loathed to ascribe blame to any party at this stage, the bottom line is that it would be counter productive for the Congolese Army FARDC to have done it but strong reasons exist for both M23 and the FDLR to have engaged in this gamesmanship.
The fighting came after peace talks broke down in the Ugandan capital Kampala on Monday. It sent some 5,000 civilians fleeing across the border into Rwanda, a U.N. peacekeeping spokesman said.
This was inevitable in my opinion regardless of what was happening in Kampala with the peace talks. It was never in the best interests of the DR Congo government to have a peace agreement with M23, success for the Kinshasa was always about no agreement being reached and the failure of the talks.
General Sultani Makenga, M23's military commander, said the rebels came under attack at 4 a.m. local time (0200 GMT) at Kanyamohoro, around 15 km (10 miles) north of Goma, the largest city in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
"We are going to defend our positions," Makenga told Reuters by telephone.
It is hard to take Makenga seriously from a military perspective, he is the clown who split M23 and caused Bosco Ntaganda to flee into the embrace of the ICC ( which was not a bad result from everyone's perspective excluding M23 ) and weakened the rebel movement to the point that it is now facing extinction. This guy does not strike me as a military genius and his decision to defend his positions may well be the final vainglorious act of his life. That is no great loss but it is very likely that M23 has many "members " who are involved through coercion allegedly including child soldiers.
Congolese army General Lucien Bahuma said M23 fighters had attacked first and fierce combat was continuing. The Congolese army was seeking to overrun rebel positions in Kibumba, just south of Kanyamohoro, officers said.
It is probably impossible to know who started this fight but if I was going to place a wager I would be betting it was the Congolese Army FARDC. That said the outcome may well not be as inevitable as I assume, Jason Stearns at Congo Siasa opines:
" The danger, as always, is that a unraveling of the talks could lead to another escalation on the ground. This time, if reports from within the UN peacekeeping mission are accurate, the Intervention Brigade may be willing to push further north against the M23, using military pressure to push the M23 and its allies toward a peace deal. Of course, that’s a risky gamble, as a failed offensive could humiliate the UN and embolden the M23 at the negotiation table."
Voice of America reported today that the Intervention ( African ) Brigade has not at this stage had any involvement.
" Troops with the U.N. mission, known as MONUSCO, are reported to be standing by, ready to intervene if necessary. U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky says MONUSCO has carried out aerial reconnaissance of the area."
Intervene means supporting FARDC inline with UN Security Council Resolution 2098, that they have not felt any requirement to do so as yet suggests that FARDC have the situation in hand.
" The Security Council today approved the creation of its first-ever “offensive” combat force, intended to carry out targeted operations to “neutralize and disarm” the notorious 23 March Movement (M23), as well as other Congolese rebels and foreign armed groups in strife-riven eastern Democratic Republic of Congo."
M23 and General Sultani Makenga of course have gone out of their way to piss the MONUSCO troops off recently with some rather batshit crazy ideas like shooting at unarmed UN helicopters, I have few doubts as to is benefitting from the MONUSCO aerial reconnaissance efforts.
A Reuters reporter in Goma said fighting was intense and continuous on Friday as Congolese army troops bombarded rebel positions with heavy artillery and machinegun fire.
This blog has argued that the only sane option available to M23 is an unconditional surrender, with this development and the collapse of the Kampala talks Makenga's only honorable option is to pick up the phone and preserve the lives of his combatants. Jason Stearns at Congo Siasa has a more optimistic viewpoint on the future of the peace negotiations, one which I disagree with but I wouldn't bet against him being right. ( Incidently in which case you have wasted your time reading this as it will clearly have become a load of bollocks ).
" There is still hope for a deal, although the Congolese main negotiators will be in Kinshasa for some time now, with only a skeleton crew left in Kampala. The next step will probably be for regional powers to discuss the M23 at a joint ICGLR/SADC summit, to take place in South Africa in early November. "
Rwandan army spokesman Brigadier General Joseph Nzabamwita said Congo's army fired three shells and small arms into Rubavu district, just over the border near the Rwandan city of Gisenyi. Border security had been tightened.
As I have blogged previously this is very much still up in the air with regard to responsibility for the shelling and small arms fire.
"There are many Congolese crossing into Rwanda," Nzabamwita said, adding that a 58-year-old Congolese woman had been evacuated after being struck by a bullet.
Rwanda's U.N. Ambassador warned the 15-nation council on Friday during a closed-door meeting that Rwanda would not tolerate shelling of its territory and was in a position to respond militarily, a U.N. Security Council diplomat said.
I hope that should evidence come to light that FARDC is not responsible for the shelling via the Expanded Joint Verification Mechanism that it is noted by the Security Council and appropriate military sanctions are imposed on Rwanda should it be proved once again to be the actions of M23.
" The accusations by the DRC government minister support claims from the United Nations Mission in Congo (MONUSCO) officials that the Rwandan backed M23 Congolese rebels have fired rockets into Rwanda on Thursday August 22, 2013 ".
In late August, Rwanda accused Congolese troops of shelling its territory and the tensions between the two neighbors raised fears of a regional conflict.
South African and Tanzanian troops, part of a new 3,000-strong U.N. Intervention Brigade with a tough mandate to crush armed groups in eastern Congo, were present near the frontline but did not join the combat.
The United Nations mission in Congo (MONUSCO) asked a committee of military experts from the International Conference of the Great Lakes region - an 11-nation regional bloc - to investigate the reports of a shell landing in Kageyo in Rwanda.
"MONUSCO is on high alert and is closely monitoring the situation," Martin Nesirky, spokesperson for the U.N. secretary general, said in New York.
After the breakdown of the Kampala talks this week, the Congolese government said it had rejected the demands of the rebel movement for an amnesty for its leaders and its reintegration into the army.
M23 says it has no desire to rejoin the Congolese forces but is seeking an amnesty for its leadership.
In an address to congress on Wednesday, Congolese President Joseph Kabila threatened military force.
"The government will not continue to expose the lives of our compatriots to blind bombings and abuses of all kinds," he said. "(M23) is caught between the force of the army and a narrow political escape route."
It is the second time in three months that peace talks have faltered and combat has broken out.
In late August, government troops with the support of the U.N. Intervention Brigade forced M23 from positions just north of Goma.
M23 began as a mutiny by Congolese soldiers in early 2012. The rebels demand that the government fully implement the terms of a 2009 peace deal signed after a previous rebellion which was backed by Rwanda.
U.N. investigators have accused Rwanda of supporting M23, a charge that Kigali strenuously denies.I think the best result that we can hope for is a M23 surrender and an end to the senseless bloodshed. I doubt M23 are viable going forward and that should be something Rwanda is taking into consideration.