GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo — The Congolese military, or FARDC, has kicked out ex-CNDP mutineers from various strongholds in Masisi territory—including Mushaki, Kitchanga, and Burungu—after days of intense fighting last week. This exchange of power marks an important shift, as government forces have, for the first time since the creation of the CNDP rebel group in 2006, succeeded in pushing the CNDP out of some of its most important strongholds.
Therefore, it came as a surprise to many last week, when the FARDC Headquarters, or HQ, ordered a general five-day ceasefire, which expires today, May 10, officially aimed at allowing ex-CNDP and other mutineers to surrender and join the regular army again. This unexpected decision reportedly resulted from an April 25 meeting between the Congo and Rwandan army chiefs of staff, Lt. Generals Didier Etumba and Charles Kayonga. According to sources close to the FARDC HQ, both Lt. Generals agreed that the recent mutiny should be dealt with peacefully. However, the reasons why the FARDC would concede at a moment when it militarily has the upper hand remain unclear.
Amid the ceasefire, the weakened ex-CNDP took advantage of the situation and re-voiced an amalgam of demands included in a memo they wrote to President Joseph Kabila a few days prior to Gen. Bosco Ntaganda’s defection. Some of their demands included full recognition of ex-CNDP officers’ ranks, no deployment of ex-CNDP outside of the Kivus, the return of Tutsi refugees, and the creation of a reconciliation committee.
The ex-CNDP military leadership, known as ANC Military High Command, said in a press release that during an April 6 meeting in Rutshuru, it created a new movement called the March 23 Movement, or M-23, which refers to the date in 2009 when the CNDP and Congolese government signed their peace accord. The new movement claims that the CNDP leadership is fully responsible for failing to implement the agreements within the peace accord, and aims to revive the dynamics of the provisions contained in the January 16, 2009 Official Press Release, as well as the March 23, 2009 agreement. The ANC Military High Command thus appointed Col. Sultani Makenga as the coordinator of M-23, and instructed all ex-CNDP officers to work under his command. Reportedly, Col. Makenga is currently somewhere between the National Virunga Park and Runyoni, the ex-CNDP sanctuary in Rutshuru, near the Ugandan border.
The role of Bosco Ntaganda, the mastermind behind the recent rebellion, in the new M-23 movement is unclear, and it appears that he has been replaced as the leader of the splintered CNDP forces. Regardless of his current role; however, Ntaganda should be held responsible for the non-implementation of the 2009 peace agreement.
According to reports, on May 4, Ntaganda and his men, defeated by the FARDC, left Kiloriwe in Masisi, leaving behind 25 tons of arms and ammunition as well as their jeeps. Ntaganda made his way on foot to the border with Rwanda, arriving on May 6 at the town of Kibumba, a hotspot where deployed FARDC have recently clashed with ex- CNDP forces, leading to population displacement. Allegedly, Ntaganda himself is aiming to cross over tinto Rwanda, which would serve as a safe haven under the protection of the Rwandan government. According to some sources, Ntaganda has already made it across the border. If Ntaganda does succeed in crossing into Rwanda, he would avoid facing justice for his war crimes since Rwanda is not a signatory to the Rome Statute and is unlikely to deliver him to Congo to stand trial.
As the CNDP has recently weakened, its archenemy, the FDLR, has reportedly gained strength. The Rwandan government has expressed serious concerns with these new developments.
"We are mindful of the hardship the Congolese refugees are going through as a result of the conflict, just as we are concerned about the possibility of the rearming and reorganizing of the FDLR in the DR Congo,” said Rwandan army spokesperson Brig. Gen. Joseph Nzabamwita. “Sources in Rwanda's security agencies believe that the FDLR is rearming and regrouping, suspiciously with the help of the DR Congo government to fight the renegade Gen. Bosco Ntaganda and his loyalists who defected from the DR Congo's FARDC."
The Congolese government’s support for the FDLR is unfounded so far, and, as some in the region suggest, may be used by Rwandan forces as an excuse to enter eastern Congo terrain, openly and legitimately.
Photo: FARDC soldiers in North Kivu, DR Congo (Sasha Lezhnev/Enough Project)