Rutshuru — DR Congo M23 rebel movement, which controls parts of the North Kivu province, says it is ready for peace talks with the government. The rebels are hoping to do that during an extraordinary summit starting Tuesday 7 August in Uganda's capital, Kampala. The meeting will bring together Great Lakes and regional leaders in a bid to tackle instability in the DRC and the region.
The road is quiet. Among the many people who fled to Uganda because of the conflict, only a few are coming back to the DRC. But just weeks ago, the important route between the Congo/Uganda border and the strategic town of Rutshuru was heavily contested between the M23 rebel movement and Congolese government forces. Today, the 29-kilometer stretch between the border town Bunagana and Rutshuru, and its surroundings, are firmly in the hands of M23.
"Our forces now control an area that reaches up to 30 kilometers north of Goma," says Vienney Kazarama, one of the founders of M23 and its official spokesman. "But we don't have the intention to capture North Kivu's capital. What we are proposing to the Congolese government are peace talks. We want the treaty we signed with them on 23 March 2009 to be respected."
The treaty, after which the rebel movement is named, promised Congolese forces would chase another rebel movement, called the FDLR, from its territory. So far that has not happened.
Kazarama further says that his forces oppose the current regime because President Joseph Kabila won last year's elections in a fraudulent way and the fact that the national army is underpaid and does not respect the rule of law.
Some residents of Rutshuru however claim that M23 forces are looting their food. Men in the city center tell me they prefer to be ruled by the Kabila government and the Congolese army. "The people here are very scared of M23. We don't want them," says one of the residents.
The extraordinary summit in Kampala is a follow up of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region Heads of State Summit on the security situation in the eastern DRC held on 15 July 2012 in Addis Ababa.
High-profile delegations from the Great Lakes region, which include Rwanda's President Paul Kagame and his Congolese counterpart Joseph Kabila, are expected to arrive in Kampala on Monday 6 August.
Asked whether M23 as a group is invited to take part in the meeting, the rebel movement's political officer Benjamin Mbonimpa denies. "Officially: no. But we do have informal contacts so maybe we can still travel to Kampala to represent our views." He adds that "Kinshasa should accept our offer for peace talks, since they keep losing ground on the battlefield." Mbonimpa is no stranger to peace talks; he was involved in the negotiations that led up to the 2009 accords.
Ruling the Congo
Kazarama warns that without peace talks the conflict will continue. "As long as the Congolese army does not respect the rule of law we will keep being in conflict with them." Inside the M23-held area, which is at least 30 by 40 kilometers, civil servants are being replaced by new people who are loyal to the rebels. "Eventually we will liberate the entire Congo," says Kazarama.