M23 clashes in Eastern Congo

Today, fighting has resumed in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), one of the most troubled regions in the world. The BBC reported that the M23 rebel movement attacked government troops outside of Goma. These are the first clashes ever since M23 withdrew its forces from Goma in November last year. The incident happens just days before United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon planned to visit the city.

It is estimated that “more than 900,000 civilians” have been displaced ever since the beginning of the fighting with M23 in April 2012, causing lots of human tragedy. (A great background on M23 is provided here by The Usamala Project led by Jason Stearns). Since 1999, UN troops called UN Stabilisation Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) comprise nearly 20,000 blue helmets with a yearly budget of $1.35 billion were not able to do much so far which caused lots of criticism from all sides. When the peace deal that was brokered on 23 March 2009 broke down in April last year, many former rebels defected from the Armed Forces of the DRC (FARDC)

Now, the UN will send 3,000 men from Malawi, South Africa and Tanzania as an intervention force as decided upon in the UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution 2098 on 28 March 2013. As operative clause paragraph 9 reads: “MONUSCO shall, for an initial period of one year and within the authorized troop ceiling of 19,815, on an exceptional basis and without creating a precedent or any prejudice to the agreed principles of peacekeeping, include an ‘Intervention Brigade’ … under direct command of the MONUSCO Force Commander, with the responsibility of neutralizing armed groups … and the objective of contributing to reducing the threat posed by armed groups to state authority and civilian security in eastern DRC and to make space for stabilization activities.”

In fact, it is interpreted by some as the UN’s first authorization for the use of offensive force, although one will see how much this intervention brigade will differ from let’s say UNOSOM II back in Somalia in 1993. The first contingents from Tanzania, some 100 troops, have already arrived. However, the deployment is lasting much longer than expected. Their task is stop the continued violence and human rights abuses that includes gender based violence and the recruitment of child soldiers of M23 and several other rebel groups like the FDLR, the ADF, the APCLS, the LRA and the FNL. It should not come as a surprise that M23 started an attack, as the creation of this intervention brigade was perceived as a “declaration of war.” With today’s attacks of M23, it will be interesting to witness what MONUSCO has learned from the debacle in November 2012. If the resolution will be actually implemented, it should help to improve the security and humanitarian situation in the eastern DRC. Today’s attacks will bring again ever more increased violence against civilians. Now it will matter how to weaken M23 in the long run.

During the last months, one had to witness stalled negotiations between the DRC government and the M23 rebels based in Kampala. In fact, M23 split into two rival factions on 27 February 2013 which led to fighting and an estimated 700 members of one faction fled to Rwanda. Among them was Bosco Ntaganda, an M23 leader who is indicted by the ICC, surrendered at the U.S. embassy in Kigali and right away transferred to The Hague. Hopefully a first step against the impunity that is reigning in the Eastern DRC!

Now, it seems that during the talks in Kampala all sides have been rather part of a farce more than anything else. Not least DRC’s Government tried to buy some time and buy off parts of M23 with just another attempt to integrate former rebel groups in the FARDC. Suspiciously, Rwandan president Paul Kagame called upon in a BBC interview that MONUSCO has made the situation in the Eastern DRC worse. At the same time, and quite ironically, Rwanda is currently one of the 10 non-permanent members of the UNSC. And there are speculations that Rwanda used its position to prevent a South African commander of MONUSCO recently which would have had an effect on a more concerted effort of the intervention brigade.

It is clear that the “surge” of MONUSCO has to be followed with a smart strategy. The Peace, Security, and Cooperation Framework (PSC) is certainly one strategy that could provide a stage and link all important actors. Signed on 24 February 2013 in Addis Ababa, it is “a blueprint” that is designed to provide a comprehensive solution in the regional and national context. The PSC will hopefully allow for a reform of the FARDC that is notorious of its human rights violation. While reform efforts have often been announced in the past, this time around it could be finally serious. For any solution to work, the local grievances must be addressed. And the intervention brigade has to make sure that it is not seen partial towards the DRC and is the cause of escalation instead of supporting peace – something that is so long awaited since such a long time.

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