News of Rwanda (Kigali)

6 August 2012

Congo-Kinshasa: More Military Officers Defect to Rebel Group

A senior Congolese officer has defected along with 25 of his subordinates to the M23 rebels - who are at the moment subject of international outrage as they expand the territory under their control in eastern DR Congo.

Lt Col John Gasasira, formerly with CNDP group (National Congress for the Defence of the People) joined the M23 - under Col Badage in Ngungu, around Masisi zone. Lt Col Gasasira abandoned his positions with all 25 soldiers he commanded.

The officer was operating in the Walungu, South Kivu, where he was deployed as part of the Congolese army (FARDC). Details coming in from the M23 group suggest the officer joined them early last week - but defected from FARDC on July 31.

The M23 largely consists of former members of another rebel movement the CNDP, who joined the army three years ago under a peace agreement. But many deserted from the army in April in support of former rebel leader Bosco Ntaganda - who the ICC has indicted for war crimes.

Since M23 rebels emerged, several officers have joined them - accusing the Kinshasa government of no fulfilling a peace deal signed back in March 2009. Many say they are never paid and are given no food. Among the demands, the CNDP soldiers do not want to be deployed to any other area - apart from the Kivus.

In June, they took over large area bordering Uganda, but then retreated to a small border area around Bunagana border post after more than 1,000 Congolese troops fled to Uganda along with a General. The rebels have however warned that they would retake all the conquered areas if government troops tried to occupy them.

Reports from Goma indicate the rebels are just about 25km from the city - where headquarters of the UN mission in DRC (MONUSCO) are based.

Over 80,000 DRC refugees in Rwanda

The heavily equipped, but ineffective UN troops have threatened to take on the rebels should they advance on Goma. Reports suggest MONUSCO has been conducting joint operations with the government forces on M23 bases. Some reports show the heavy artillery used are actually falling on villages - injuring many.

On the FARDC front meanwhile, they continue to abandon their positions with all the arms leaving them for the M23 rebels who have said they want to encircle Goma, and then take it without firing a single shot.

But as the bombs fall and uncertainty reigns on the ground, regional leaders are searching for a solution to end the fighting that has left up to 500,000 Congolese displaced. More than 20,000 refugees are in Rwanda, adding on the already existing 55,000 who have been here for years.

No training ground in Kanombe

Kinshasa, the UN and various groups have accused Rwanda of backing the rebels, but in a 131-page rebuttal, Rwanda says it dismantled each of the allegations at the UN Security Council last week. Rwandan officials named in the accusations were found to have been in different places during the times the UN report claims they were in Gisenyi.

The arms allegedly being supplied by Rwanda were found not to exist in Rwanda's stock as they had been destroyed years back. The UN report claimed the M23 rebels are trained in Kanombe military barracks in Kigali, but that was found to be false because no such training ground exists.

In one instance, the UN group of experts (GoE) report said a meeting had been arranged in Gisenyi to plan M23 launch. It was discovered the said meeting was instead a conversation at a funeral overheard by the source of the GoE. These people were only discussing about the rebels just like any group of politically developed individuals would hold a discussion on the region.

Among the solutions to the conflict being fronted is a "neutral force" to combat all armed groups in eastern DRC including the M23 and Rwanda FDLR militias.

However, the issue remains as to the composition of this force. Regional leaders including from Rwanda and DRC are expected in Kampala-Uganda on Monday for a regional summit on the situation in east DRC.

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