A step-by-step, day-by-day account of the DRC defeat of the M23

  • The precursor to the M23’s military defeat was the suspension on 21 October of DRC-M23 talks within the Kampala Dialogue framework, when both sides failed to agree on the subject of amnesty for M23 combatants and their integration into the DRC armed forces – the FARDC. On 25 October, DRC forces attacked M23 positions in Kibumba, taking the town the same day. The African Defence Review have a fantastic resource chronicling the military aspects of the October-November East DRC war here.
  • On 3 November, the M23 and DRC Government reached agreement on 11 issues in Kampala, paving the way for a peace agreement between the DRC and M23 on the condition that the latter public declared that it was renouncing its 18-month rebellion.
  • The same day, the leader of the M23, Bertrand Bisimwa, announced a “cessation of hostilities” and a virtual M23 unilateral ceasefire, saying that the M23 were prepared to sign a peace agreement with the DRC Government based on the Kampala Dialogue “without conditions”. This “no conditions” concession appeared to signal a departure from the M23’s previous position, which conditioned a ceasefire on the DRC Government meeting a number of demands.
  • On 4 November, a Joint Summit of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) and International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) held in Pretoria noted in a communique that a peace agreement between the M23 and DRC Government based on the Kampala Dialogue could only be signed once the M23 made a “public declaration renouncing rebellion”. The communique added that five days after the DRC Government made a “public declaration of acceptance”, a peace agreement could be signed.
  • The same day, DRC forces intensified their assaults on the M23’s last holdouts in Bunagana and Mbuzi. General Lucien Bahuma, commander of the DRC’s  North Kivu province, noted that DRC forces backed by UN (MONUSCO) units were “pounding Mbuzi” and by the end of the day, the FARDC’s Col. Olivier Hamuli was able to confirm that DRC forces had taken the town. Fighting alongside the FARDC, the Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) of the UN Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) flew combat sorties against M23 positions in the Chanzu and Kabalo areas of Bunagana, on the DRC-Ugandan border.
  • The M23  fought back , its spokesman Amani Kabasha saying that despite its unilateral ceasefire the previous day, the M23 were “responding to the Congolese army aggression”. The M23 fired mortar shells into Bunagana town, killing 4 people according to the UN-backed Radio Okapi (MONUSCO later reported the death toll at 15). Two shells also landed in Ugandan territory, causing several injuries, prompting the Ugandan government to move military assets to the Ugandan-DRC border.
  • The M23 retaliatory shelling of Bunagana caused a spike in refugee movements towards the Ugandan border. According to Lucy Beck, external relations officer at UNHCR, between 3,500 to 5,000 displaced people were received at the Nyakabande Transit Centre on the DRC-Ugandan border on 3 November alone, breaking the Centre’s record of 1,921 for a single day and being “the biggest amount of refugees (the UNHCR has) ever transported in one day from the (DRC-Uganda) border”.
  • In light of these developments, on 4 November the special envoys and representatives of the UN, EU, U.S. and AU issued a joint statement “urg(ing) the M23 to renounce its rebellion as already agreed” and “further call(ing) upon the Government of the DRC to restrain from further military action at this stage”.

“it is not a matter of ceasefire… the M23 must announce clearly, not a ceasefire, but the end of the armed rebellion they launched 20 months ago. Secondly, M23 must immediately put all its fighters at the disposal of the commission that was set up in Kampala to demobilize them, to disarm them, and help them to be back to civilian life”.

  • On 5 November, Bisimwa announced in an M23 communique that the group was ending its rebellion and opting to pursue “purely political means” of “addressing the root causes of the rebellion”. The announcement also noted that M23 units were to be disarmed, demobilized and reintegrated “on terms to be agreed with the Government of the DRC”:

Annonce de fin de rébellion

La Direction du Mouvement du 23 Mars annonce à l’opinion nationale et internationale qu’elle a décidé à dater de ce jour de mettre un terme à sa rébellion et de poursuivre, par des moyens purement politiques, la recherche des solutions aux causes profondes qui ont présidé à sa création.

A cet effet, le Chef d’Etat-major Général ainsi que tous les commandants des grandes unités de l’Armée Révolutionnaire Congolaise sont priés de préparer les hommes des troupes au processus de désarmement, démobilisation et réinsertion sociale dont les modalités sont à convenir avec le Gouvernement de la République Démocratique du Congo.

Fait à Kampala, le 05 Novembre 2013

Le Président du Mouvement du 23 Mars

Bertrand BISIMWA

  • The same day, the DRC’s Information and Media Minister and government spokesperson, Lambert Mende, appeared to tell a press conference that it had no intentions of signing a “peace deal” with the M23 – saying that Kinshasa would only agree to sign a “statement” with the M23 in Kampala acknowledging the end of the M23 rebellion. Mende added: “The M23 said that it has ended its rebellion. So, there is no need to go and change this fact by recreating an M23 to sign an agreement with.”
  • At the same time, Mende said that “it’s a total victory for the DRC”. He did entertain the possibility of an official peace agreement with the M23 (“We can say that it is over, though you never know. Those who fled could resume hostilities, so now we must find a political solution to be sure that our people can live without any threat”), although his jubilance was palpable: 

#RDC : C’est une victoire militaire indéniable que les #FARDC viennent de remporter sur les éléments du #M23 et leurs mentors.

  • The M23 announcement was welcomed by the international special envoys and representatives, who issued another joint statement on 6 November “urg(ing) both parties to conclude the political process by signing a principled agreement that ensures the timely disarmament and demobilization of the M23 and accountability for perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity”.
  • Holding a separate briefing on 6 November, the U.S. Special Envoy for the Great Lakes and the DRC, Russell Feingold, said that the issue of an amnesty (which caused the collapse of the M23-DRC talks on October 21) was central to a durable peace in the DRC:

There is …an important step that has to be taken, which is the passing of a national amnesty law by the Congolese government. That amnesty law will not provide amnesty for war crimes or crimes against humanity for people who have committed those crimes. It will only – if this agreement goes through the way I hope it will and believe it will — provide amnesty for the sort of the rank-and-file members of M23 for purposes of having been part of a rebellion. In other words, they’re forgiven for having started or been involved in a rebellion as long as they pledge individually to not rebel again. And if they do rebel again or participate in rebellion, they lose their amnesty, but no amnesty for the type of people who have committed crimes against humanity and international crime.

  • The DRC’s legislature has not yet passed any law offering an amnesty to M23 combatants. Mende had however written on Twitter on 19 September that any amnesty program:

Les bénéficiaires de l’amnistie et de l’intégration au sein des FARDC feront l’objet d’un examen au cas par cas .

The beneficiaries of the amnesty and integration into the FARDC will be considered on a case-to-case basis.

  • In New York, the French Permanent Representative to the UN, Gerard Araud, dropped hints as to the nature of the agreement that would be signed between the DRC and M23. Echoing the DRC’s Mende, Araud said that:

…there won’t be a signing. What I understand from what (MONUSCO head) Martin Kobler explained, the idea is not the signing of an agreement but there will be a sort of document. I understand that both sides don’t accept now the idea of an agreement. But there should be a sort of understanding which could be agreed between both sides. You have to ask more precisely the question to Martin Kobler, to the Spokesperson of MONUSCO because it appears there are some hesitations on the side of the DRC authorities, now that the rebellion movement has been crushed, to sign a sort of agreement between equals. But at the same time the DRC authorities have reaffirmed they will behave in good faith for reconciliation.

  • On 7 November, the Ugandan government confirmed that the M23’s military leader, Brigadier-General Sultani Makenga, had crossed into Uganda and surrendered, and was currently being held by the Ugandan military. Uganda also confirmed that around 1,500 M23 fighters had crossed into Uganda and surrendered en masse to Ugandan forces. The Africa Center for Strategic Studies had this to say on Twitter:

Africa Center‏@AfricaACSS7 Nov

#DRC: The Ugandan government spokesman told RFI his army has been holding the #M23 military leader Sultani #Makenga for the past 3 days

  • 8 November was a busy day.
  • The DRC’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Raymond Tshibanda N’Tunga Mulongo, announced that the DRC and M23 will sign a peace agreement in Kampala on 11 November. Tshibanda said that “it was decided one day after the M23 declaration renouncing the rebellion that the government would give them five days before the signing. Those five days end on Monday, so the signing is on Monday (11 November).” Although the substance of the agreement remains a mystery, Tshibanda appeared to lay down likely terms:

In the discussions we held in Kampala, it was made absolutely clear there’d be no amnesty for war crimes, crimes against humanity including sexual violence, the recruiting of child soldiers, large scale human rights abuses, not to mention acts of genocide, no-one will grant amnesty for these kinds of crimes

  • The same day, the office of the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said that it welcomed the “the apparently comprehensive defeat of the M23 armed group in DRC”. It also said that Makenga “should be brought to justice along with other M23 leaders”.
  • On 8 November, M23’s publicity arm published a letter that Bisimwa wrote to Ugandan President Museveni, asking that the surrendering M23 fighters be allowed to remain in Uganda and not repatriated to the DRC government, where, he suggested, they face possible mistreatment by both the DRC forces and the UN-FIB:

…Ces ex-combattants affirment se sentir insécurisés par un processus de désarmement, démobilisation et réinsertion sociale placé sous l’encadrement des forces qui les ont combattus en refusant toute proposition de cesser le feu durant plus d’une annee. Ils font allusion ici aux Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo et la Mission des Nations-Unies au Congo dans la conduite dudit processus. Ils ont en mémoire de nombreux massacres intervenus après leur réintégration ou démobilisation à la fin des rebellions précédentes. De ce fait, ils ont décidé de s’en remettre à la sagesse de Son Excellence Monsieur le Président en votre qualité de Médiateur du dialogue entre le Gouvernement de la RDC et le Mouvement du 23 Mars dans l’espoir que l’environnement sécuritaire et l’approche politique changent suite notamment au dialogue de Kampala.

  • Bisimwa’s direct intermediation may have swayed Museveni, as Uganda announced that it would not hand over surrendering M23 combatants to the DRC. The Ugandan Government spokesperson, Col. Paddy Ankunda, said that “They are not prisoners; they are soldiers running away from a war so we are receiving them and helping them because it is our responsibility”. Ankunda added that “the peace agreement (to be signed on 11 November) will determine, in matters of reintegration and re-insertion, the fate of the M23 soldiers”.
  • As celebrations began in the DRC capital, Kinshasa, and buoyed by the success of the UN’s Force Intervention Brigade, the DRC and its allies began turning their attention to other militant groups operating in the Great Lakes region. On the DRC side, the FARDC’s spokesman, Col. Olivier Halumi, said on 7 November that “it is not the end of the war because there are still other groups who still have weapons on Congolese territory and we will also disarm them by force if they do not want to comply peacefully”. Minister Mende tweeted that “there is no place in the DRC for armed groups such as the FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda), ADF-NALU (Allied Democratic Forces – National Army for the Liberation of Uganda) and the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army)”. Similarly, France’s UN Ambassador Araud identified the FDLR as the next target of DRC-UN operations, while MONUSCO’s Kobler  added of the UN-FIB: “We have teeth and we are using those teeth”.
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