Do M23 Rebels March Towards Kinshasa? : Are They the Good Guys?

12 Sep

Sept. 11, 2012

A tentative ceasefire between M23 and the Congolese Army has existed for four weeks now but the fighting is not over. No agreement has been reached between Joseph Kabila’s government and the M23 rebels.

Yet contrary to what Kabila’s government predicted in May, 2012 the M23 troops have not been defeated. It has been four months of continuous skirmishes for theM23 rebels in North Kivu District and they have shown themselves to be brave warriors- proven themselves to be superior fighters much more so than the far more numerous and better equipped Congolese army. This July, their leader, Sultani Makenga vowed that they would slowly advance towards Kinshasa and topple Joseph Kabila’s government there within the next 60 days. By August M23 had taken over the Northern Kivu town of Rubare near Rutshuru, and had come within 30 miles of the city of Goma, the provincial capital of North Kivu where the United Nations Mission in North-eastern Congo is located. Accurate reports have surfaced that the M23 rebels control the main road and are extorting money out of all truck drivers bringing food into the city and that their outrageous taxes are being passed on to the consumers by the retailers in Goma making food a very expensive commodity to purchase in the city.

The Afro-America Network, a blog which discusses events in the Great Lakes District reported in July that the order to march on Kinshasa was given on June 30th in a meeting attended by M23 leaders, ex-CNDP Commander, Gen. Laurent Nkunda, and top military leaders from Rwanda. They have also stated that 3,000 more Rwandan troops have crossed the border into the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) bringing the total to 5,000 Rwandan troops ready to support the M23 forces as they move forward? Is this true?

But these newest accusations are highly unlikely and seem to be the government’s way of maligning  M23’s image. According to a report published this week, Sept. 11, 2012 by The Human Rights Watch ( HRW), M23 has been charged with taking part in war crimes in north-eastern Congo, such as executions and the whole scale rape of women. The report also charged that M23 had forcibly conscripted at least 137 youth and killed at least 33 young men and boys who tried to escape from their camps. War is a messy business at best and maybe there are individual soldiers in M23 who have taken it upon themselves to commit these horrendous acts but they were not ordered by their senior officers to do so. According to my sources around Goma the members of The Human Rights Watch who produced this report were deliberately misled by government- financed informants. The HRW were fed a pack of lies by people paid by the Congolese government to discredit M23. It makes me highly suspicious that after five months of waging one of the cleaner campaigns in the district compared to the whole-sale slaughter perpetrated by a host of Mai- Mai militias currently operating in the area and the remaining Hutu guerrillas (FDLR) entrenched in northeast DR Congo and responsible for the genocide of the Tutsis in Rwanda; the M23 forces would suddenly dismiss their ideals, change their operational policies, and become just like the soldiers in the Congolese Army they were fighting against. Now there is a group that could be charged with a long list of crimes against humanity any day of the week.

And just where was Human Rights Watch when reporters from the BBC traveled into the forced labor mines operated by soldiers in the Congolese army( See June 23 Blog, M23 Movement: Will Ntaganda Elude Punishment?) where the workers regularly die from the lack of safe conditions and proper sanitation while down in the mines digging up Coltran. How come there was no report written about that? And what about the return of the Mai- Mai militias especially the Raia Mutomboki which has reared its ugly head in Kivu District? Aren’t they responsible for committing war crimes as well? Why have the M23 rebels been singled out and labeled as monsters? And how can we be sure that these atrocities were not deliberately committed by Congolese soldiers posing as M23 troops in the first place?

I and several of my colleagues have reason to believe that this is another government ploy to discredit the M23 movement. President Kabila has not been able to subdue these men through combat so now has taken a different route and has chosen to malign their character around the world. He has even convinced a, not too savvy, Human Rights Group to help him in this endeavor. In a place as poor as Kivu district even one US dollar buys a lot of lies from a desperate person. The truth is a very selective thing in war-ravished areas and people will say whatever they must in order to survive.

Everyone in the area knows that Col. Sultani Makenga, the M23 leader runs a very tight unit and that his men have been hand-selected and are very committed to their cause. They fight for a reason known by all and he has strongly denied these allegations. Col. Vianney Kazarama, the M23 spokesman, was reached by Aljazeera the only news agency that actually visited the area in which the fighting took place and posted impartial reports of  M23’s position.  “We invite everyone to come investigate on the ground and see the truth. These are false accusations and we regret that Human Rights Watch publishes false reports.”

The M23 rebellion began in April when these soldiers defected from the regular Congolese army at the same time General Bosco Ntaganda, the true criminal, left with his own men. Ntganda is wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity committed during the Second War in DR Congo. Let it be understood again that the M23 movement has in no way aligned itself to General Bosco Ntaganda contrary to what the government in Kinshasa wants us to believe.

The M23 rebels do not fight for or with Bosco Ntaganda and the government knows this well because according to my sources, the government is hiding Bosco Ntaganda even though they have publically stated that that they intend to arrest him. They have claimed this for several months now and nothing has happened maybe because everyone knows that Ntaganda is hiding out at his farm waiting for orders from the President. And why hasn’t the Human Rights Watch filed a complaint about that with the United Nations?

It is a dangerous game that the government now plays and they know it. But what I don’t understand is how the UN officials in Goma can be so widely off the mark on just about everything that’s happening in North Kivu District. Why do they keep backing the wrong side?

Here is where the government has deliberately released confusing reports about the truth of the matter. What the government does not want brought to light is that the M23 rebels were all past members of the Tutsi army, The National Congress for the Defense of the People, (CNDP) of which Ntaganda was a military leader during the Second War in the Congo. As part of the conditions of the 2009 peace accord, these CNDP soldiers were brought into the Congolese army- no questions asked and Ntaganda, also a Tutsi was made a general.  These soldiers have  continued to identify with their Tutsi heritage and have dearly suffered for it. They have faced severe discrimination in their assignments as Congolese soldiers in northern Kivu district. They have been laughed at, even spit on by the villagers of other tribes when performing their duties and these same villagers refuse to carry out their orders. This hatred of Tutsis exists within the Congolese Army as well and has been condoned by the Kabila government in Kinshasa. Tutsi soldiers do not advance within the ranks as quickly as soldiers from other tribes. Tutsis face condemnation even death at the hands of vigilante mobs and Mai- Mai militia for no reason at all. Although many Tutsi are legal citizens of the Congo they are hated by the other tribes in the area and considered foreigners. Most Tutsi families live in fear that they will either be hunted down and killed by the Hutu Interharmwe (Hutu guerillas) hiding out in the Kivus or by their own neighbors who live right next door. This is one issue that M23 intends to rectify. They fight to call the government’s attention to the plight of the Tutsi all over the DR Congo but especially in north and south Kivu Districts.

At the beginning of August Joseph Kabila swore that there would be no negotiations with the M23 rebels and that they would be eradicated from Kivu District. But was that the case? At the  the end of August The Observer reported that a small group of M23 officers had been invited to Kampala, Uganda to enter into an important meeting with President Museveni and that the meeting had actually taken place. Although details of the meeting are still not known, Museveni was said to have called on the M23 leaders to agree to a ceasefire and enter into formal peace negotiations.

Then leaders from 11 nations in the Central and East Africa region, including the DR Congo and Rwanda  met in the Ugandan capital of Kampala on August 5th to discuss the formation of a neutral force composed of soldiers from several of those countries that would regulate the Great Lakes Region as well as establish an international committee of defense ministers whose charge would be to devise a solution to the escalating conflict in the north-eastern DR Congo, specifcally the Great Lakes District by the end of the week.

More than 250,000 people have been displaced from their homes by this ongoing conflict but most are Tutsi who have left their homes to avoid the local Mai-Mai miltia and FDLR ( Hutu guerillas ) in the north east- Kivu. UN refugee workers have interviewed Tutsi families staying in the camps in both Rwanda and Uganda and many have no intention of returning to their old villages because of the violence they have been subjected to by their neighbors. Now why doesn’t The Human Rights Watch report about that?

As I have warned before in several of my previous blogs postings, there has been a great deal of ethnic violence in this area for some time now, most of it against Tutsis, and it could escalate to genocide if the villagers are left alone. This is what the M23 has been fighting for: to find a way to stop the ethnic discrimination and protect the Tutsi communities in North Kivu. Hopefully this international committee of defense ministers will think of a way to bring together all of these warring tribes and stem the murders of innocent people. The M23 soldiers fight for this as well.

What is true and what is staged is hard to know for sure at this point in time but based on what I know is going on in this region at the moment it looks like the  M23 troops may just be the good guys in all of this tumoil and the only ones who are truly looking out for the people.

Kat Nickerson                 Kingston.          RI          USA

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