A statement by the UN mission in DR Congo, MONUSCO, gave M23 rebels and ADF movement in Goma until 4:00pm (2000 GMT) on Thursday "to hand in their weapons to a MONUSCO base" and join a demobilization program. After then, "they will be considered an imminent threat of physical violence to civilians and MONUSCO will take all necessary measures to disarm them, including by the use of force in accordance with its mandate and rules of engagement."
United Nations-sponsored conference in February produced a peace framework; in March the U.N. Security Council authorized a 3,000-strong “intervention brigade,” the first in U.N. history, to carry out offensive operations against armed groups. The force, composed of troops from South Africa, Malawi and Tanzania, is due to be fully deployed by next month — and it appears that its services will soon be needed. This month fighting has erupted between the Congolese army and a rebel group called M23 after months of relative calm. Thousands of people were forced to flee their homes in North Kivu province, where there are already nearly 1 million displaced civilians.
The Congolese government in faraway Kinshasa unable to control the region, neighboring countries — beginning with Rwanda and Uganda— have repeatedly intervened. Rwanda originally sought to protect itself from Hutu militias that fled its territory after carrying out a 1994 genocide, but over the years it has developed economic interests in Congo and close ties with Congolese Tutsis.
Rwanda is backing M23 despite its commitment at the February peace conference to stop sponsoring Congolese militias. The M23 has carried out scores of murders and rapes since March. It is not the only offender: Government troops are also guilty of abuses, as are smaller militias allied with one of the two sides. For instance, the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a Ugandan rebel group now based in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Staged attacks that prompted more than 60,000 Congolese refugees to flee to neighboring Uganda.
The ADF movement was started in 1995 in eastern Congo by Ugandan members of the Tabliq movement and remnants of National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (NALU) rebels, which had been fighting for the recognition of the Rwenzururu Kingdom in western Uganda. From the beginning, the ADF’s political aims had always been mixed. After starting its attacks in November 1996, the ADF claimed to be fighting the Museveni regime in Uganda, as well as fighting for the marginalized Muslim population in Uganda. At the same time, the movement was serving broader geopolitical functions.
By 2000, the ADF had stopped most of its attacks on Ugandan territory and further retreated, and integrated itself, into eastern Congo, where it was engaged in activities such as trading, farming, taxing roads and controlling mines. It has been considered a largely dormant force since then. The movement is currently estimated to be around 1,000-1,200 combatants—or three to four times the current size of the Lord’s Resistance Army, the more infamous Ugandan rebel group.
The reasons behind its current resurgence are very unclear; A possible reason is the recently installed U.N. force intervention brigade in the DRC, whose mandate allows it to attack operational armed forces in the region. In the past, the ADF has attacked the civilian population and Congolese armed forces when it felt threatened. For example, after a 2005 joint operation by U.N. peacekeepers and the Congolese armed forces, the ADF stepped up its attacks on the local population—and particularly targeted U.N. informants—displacing around 40,000 people. In this current situation, the ADF could feel threatened.
M23 and Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) may be trying to gain advantage ahead of the U.N. force’s deployment, which is why it’s important that the force begin to act on its mandate as soon as possible.
The United States and European governments, longtime supporters of Rwanda and Uganda, suspended some aid last year after M23 briefly seized the city of Goma. Now they need to threaten further sanctions, while also offering Rwanda incentives, including economic carrots, that will allow it to beat a face-saving retreat from Congo once and for all.
By Guylain Gustave Moke
African Affairs Expert
Photo-Credit-AFP-M23 rebel forces in Goma