Sunday, April 7, 2013

Amid Growing Doubts about Brigade, Rumors of M23 Reinforcements

Doubts about the planned intervention brigade for eastern Congo are growing, as renewed questions about the killing of 13 South African troops in Bangui last month threaten to put the kibosh on South Africa's anticipated participation in the peacekeeping effort. Meanwhile various Congolese news sources are alleging that the M23 rebels are receiving reinforcements from Rwandan and Ugandan sources in preparation for a renewed assault on Goma.

Reactions are Mixed
The Congolese government appears delighted by the UN resolution and views the proposed intervention brigade as a clear diplomatic victory. Ubiquitous government spokesman Lambert Mende told the BBC the brigade would bring the region "some hope of peace." If the Congolese government feels any shame at its inability to protect its own citizens, it is successfully keeping those feelings in check.

Congolese civil society and opposition parties also appear heartened by the proposed arrival of what they have already nicknamed the "super blue helmets" (or "supers casques bleus"--it sounds better in French). The war has gone on for too long, said one typical CSO leader, interviewed on Radio Okapi. Opposition leader and South Kivu native Vital Kamerhe also praised the brigade, though he lamented how long it's taken for Monusco to develop a forceful response to the rebels.

The Rwandan response has been more tepid. The usually garrulous foreign minister, Louise Mushikiwabo, has said nothing, and Rwandan news sources have made little mention of the brigade. The only editorial to appear about it in the government-controlled New Times warned that providing additional resources to Monusco is like "giving money to someone who has intentionally infected you with a terminal disease and asking them to use that money to cure you!"

The M23 are predictably denouncing the intervention brigade in the most forceful terms. Bertrand Bisimwa, the group's president, said at a press briefing at Bunagana on Monday that "from now on, peacekeeping forces will wage war on groups of citizens who are demanding good governance in our country." The rebels are promising (via twittersphere) to fight fire with fire. Said one tweet, directed at the South African government, one of the countries tapped to provide troops to the brigade: "We don’t want to kill our brothers from SA. We are asking them to support peace in DRC, not to come to fight.”

IRIN takes stock of the M23 rebel movement's prospects at its one-year anniversary. In brief, the Makenga-Bosco split may have sufficiently weakened the movement to make a deal possible with the Congolese government:
Any deal is likely to involve the integration of Makenga’s fighters into FARDC, with lower cadre fighters automatically integrated and higher ranking officers considered for integration on a case-by-case basis. However, analysts say the re-integration method has not worked in the past and must be rethought.
“M23 integration in FARDC is feasible but is not suitable. The policy of repeated integration of armed groups in FARDC is [contributing] to the fragmentation and militarization of FARDC,” Marc-Andre Lagrange, DRC senior analyst for the International Crisis Group, told IRIN via email. “Since that approach has proven, with M23, to be a failure, the DRC government with MONUSCO and UNSC should look for another option.”
According to a recent article in the newsletter Africa Confidential: “Experts broadly agree that some kind of agreement between Kinshasa and M23 is in the offing and will be signed soon, but reliable sources in North Kivu diverge on what the outcome will be. Some feel that Makenga will reintegrate his troops into the FARDC, while others suggest that Makenga and [new] M23 political leader Bertrand Bisimwa can stay independent of the army while not being seen as a ‘negative force’.”
So it is not clear whether to take Bisimwa's belligerence at face value or see it as part of M23's negotiation strategy: In the face of an ever-weakening military position, loudly threaten to make trouble in order to get the best deal possible.

No word (that I've seen) on how the FDLR or local mai mai groups view the brigade.

Preparations Are Ongoing: But for War or Peace?
Monusco chief Roger Meese travelled to Bukavu last week to evaluate the security situation. Monusco's military spokesperson, Lieutenant Colonel Félix Basse, confirmed that the brigade would work in concert with FARDC and said that an advance staff is already in Goma to prepare for the brigade's arrival.

Jules Hakizimwami, Speaker of the North-Kivu Provincial Assembly, held a press briefing in Goma on Thursday, April 4, in which he denounced Rwanda for sending troop reinforcements to M23 positions, in preparation he said, for a renewed assault on Goma.

Friday's Kinshasa newspapers contained detailed if unconfirmed reports of Rwanda and Uganda reinforcing the M23 rebels. Under the headline "Rwanda and Uganda are preparing an attack on Goma," the newspaper  l'Avenir said that Uganda dispatched some 2800 troops across the frontier at Rwindi earlier in the week to reinforce the M23. Not to be outdone, Le Potentiel, citing sources in North Kivu, reported that Rwandan troops entered Congo at Kibumba.

Alex Engwete draws the details together: "According to observers Rwanda--and Uganda, incidentally--wants M23 to reoccupy Goma--and eventually attack Bukavu--ahead of the deployment of Monusco's Intervention Brigade so as: (1) to preempt this intervention by rendering the costs of its collateral damage prohibitive in urban settings; and (2) to force the DRC government to heed M23 "claims."

The government is holding further talks with M23 rebels in Kampala this week, with the hope of being able to sign a final and inclusive peace agreement on Thursday, April 11.

And Doubts Mount
South Africa's opposition party Democratic Alliance is demanding that the government reveal whether South Africa is "going to war" in DRC as part of the UN's proposed intervention force. Thirteen South African were killed last month in the CAR in a futile effort to defend President François Bozizé's from rebels. More tk on how this will affect SA's willingness to participate in the brigade.

David Bosco at Foreign Policy says that the brigade's interventionist mission is "unprecedented" only in a narrow sense: The UN has participated in kinetic, peace-enforcing actions over the years. The most significant such operation was in the Congo itself in the early months and years after independence; that operation proved so controversial that it "helped to ensure that the U.N. funded no new peacekeeping operation for a decade." He wonders if the brigade has been given the resources it needs, and warns that if things don't go right, "political will for the operation will likely melt away."

And The Irish Times recalls that the previous UN mission in the early 1960s was a "trial by fire" for Irish peacekeepers and warns that the UN's track record "does not inspire optimism."

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