DR Congo: You Can’t Have a Ceasefire Without Negotiations

On Wednesday night fighting erupted again between the Congolese army (the FARDC) and the rebel movement known as M23, in the eastern part of the country on the border with Rwanda. The fighting comes after a truce, called last week, which government spokesperson Lambert Mende says was meant to provide a strategic opportunity for the FARDC to regroup. This seems like an odd move for an army that is supposed to be pursuing military victory at all costs and a government that has ruled out negotiations with the rebels. A ceasefire without negotiations makes little sense.

Yet the truce seems to have provided the same opportunity for M23, which is why some Congolese were skeptical or even opposed to the truce in the first place. This is one of at least three ceasefires with the government since the M23 movement emerged out of an army mutiny in April.

Voice of America reported on Monday that some Congolese, in Mushaki for example, which has seen some of the recent violence, were in favor of a ceasefire simply because “they are threatened and they are tired of the war.” This, however, implicitly requires a negotiated political settlement. A teacher in Mushaki noted that while he was in favor of a ceasefire, the government should talk to the rebels and “find a solution which addresses the origins of the problem.”

But VOA also reported:

[…] Ernest Kyaviro, a spokesman for the governor of North Kivu province, says the ceasefire is not popular with the local Congolese.

“They don’t like it at all, because it has given the enemy the time to reinforce and fight again,” said Kyaviro. “It has been made two times and the consequence was to complicate things. They don’t like it — they have told it to the minister openly, in Rutshuru. It can be sad for them to see another truce coming.”

A spokesman for a civil society group in North Kivu Omar Kavota says they also oppose the ceasefire because there is a risk that the M23 would escape from their holdout and restart the war elsewhere. 

Following the renewed fighting Wednesday night and Thursday morning, reports Radio Okapi, some FARDC positions are now occupied by rebels, including positions about 5 kilometers from the strategic Rumangabo military base. The rebels attacked FARDC positions around 3 AM Thursday morning and according to one army officer they were obviously aiming to capture Rumangabo, which lies 50 kilometers north of the provincial capital Goma. While the FARDC told Radio Okapi the army was organizing to regain lost positions, they also indicated that the army has not managed to gain any ground in Runyonyi where M23 has held positions for over a month.

It would seem, then, that the anticipation of those wary of the ceasefire, and the possibility it would give M23 a chance to regroup, was in fact not unreasonable. On Twitter, Jason Stearns of Congo Siasa tweeted “M23 appears to have taken Rwanguba hospital, cutting the road to Bunagana border,” and Johnny Hogg at Reuters wanted to know where all the ammunition was coming from.

It is alleged by Human Rights Watch that the M23 rebels are supported and supplied by Rwanda, charges that are easy to believe given Rwanda’s past support of rebel movements in Congo and their interest in the region. The Prime Minister, Matata Ponyo, without accusing Rwanda openly, has denounced the “passivity” of Rwandan authorities in failing to be aware of (or turning a blind eye to) the rebels’ recruiting and training in Rwanda. The extent of Rwandan involvement in the M23 movement remains unclear.