The army of the Democratic Republic of Congo claims to have beaten back M23 rebels. But military intervention alone will not bring lasting peace to the country, observers say.
The eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been battered by a series of attacks and counter attacks carried out alternately by rebels of the M23 movement and the army.
The United Nations now speaks of a decisive turn of events. Martin Kobler, head of the UN mission in DRC, told the UN Security Council via video link that the M23 was finished as a military force. He said the rebels had pulled back from all positions with the exception of a small area close to the border with Rwanda. M23 fighters should now lay down their weapons and return to the negotiating table, Kobler said. In a special session on Monday (28.10.2013) the Security Council condemned the fresh outbreak of violence in eastern DRC.
The towns of Kiwanja and Rutshuru, as well as the Rumangabo military base, which had previously been held by rebels, are back under the government's control.
The DRC army and UN troops are working together in the east of the country
"We are very happy," a resident of Kiwanja told DW. "We are on the side of the government troops. We suffered greatly under the M23 and are relieved that they have been driven out."
Last Friday (25.10.2013) saw the start of a joint offensive by government and UN troops. The leader of the UN mission, Martin Kobler, reported via Twitter that a Tanzanian UN soldier was killed during the operation. Kobler was able to see for himself the situation in Kiwanja and praised the cooperation between the UN and the Congolese army. Since summer 2013 the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission (MONUSCO) which he heads has included a 3,000-strong military intervention force. Now, says Kobler, it is time for a political solution to be found.
No sign of a short term solution
However, there is no clear indication that a political solution is imminent. Peace talks held in the Ugandan capital Kampala between the Congolese government and M23 broke up without any result. The main reason is believed to be the rebels' demand for an amnesty for their leaders.
Martin Kobler says cooperation between the UN and the DRC army is good
The DRC government was unwilling to make compromises and wanted to demonstrate its military might, says Ilona Auer-Frege, an expert on the DRC with the German "Ecumenical Network for Central Africa" (Der ökumenischer Netz Zentralafrika), which is made up of a number of church organizations in the Great Lakes region. Auer-Frege doubts whether the military offensive can usher in lasting peace. Successfully forcing a rebel group to pull back does not solve the problem, she told DW. "They regroup, acquire new weapons, and then the cycle of violence continues."
The M23 movement, named after a peace accord of 23 March 2009 which the rebels say the government failed to implement, has several hundred members and links with neighboring Rwanda. The group was formed in April 2012 and since then their militias have been terrorizing entire regions in eastern DRC. In order to bring peace to the east, it is necessary to examine what the rebel groups stand for, says Auer-Frege. The M23 has a military agenda and sees itself as the representative of many people who fled from Rwanda and now live in DRC. Negotiations should also take account of the interests of these people, the German expert says.
Another priority should be to rebuild the Congolese state. Corruption must be rooted out, the security sector reformed and impunity ended. Most criminals in DRC are never brought to court.
There's a need for more longterm thinking, says Auer-Frege. The international donor states should develop a concept together with the DRC government but this would take longer than just a few weeks or months.
Talks or no talks?
M23 has now threatened to boycott further peace talks if the army offensive does not end immediately. But at the same time, the rebels are hoping for dialogue. According to M23 spokesman Amani Kabasha, "Our future lies in the Kampala peace talks." Meanwhile, the government is calling for the disarmament of the rebels and threatens further offensives.
The eastern DRC is rich in mineral resources and is no stranger to war and conflict. M23 is just one of numerous groups trying to seize power there. More than 20,000 UN troops are currently deployed in DRC in order to protect the civilian population. That is the largest UN force in the world at this time.