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M23 March 23 Movement

The M23 rebels in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo said November 05, 2013 they were laying down their arms, after military forces drove them from their last remaining strongholds. The declaration followed a call from African leaders meeting in South Africa for an end to the fighting. In a statement, M23 President Bertrand Bisimwa requested rebel commanders prepare fighters for “disarmament, demobilization and social reintegration.” Bisimwa said the group would pursue its goals through political means. Also known as the Congolese Revolutionary Army, the group formed in early 2012. Named for March 23, the date of a 2009 peace deal, M23 included fighters once loyal to a rebel army who assimilated into the DRC army, then defected. Dominated by the Tutsi ethnic group, UN experts said the group was backed by Rwanda, which Rwanda denied.

Ethnic Tutsi M23 fighters were once loyal to the CNDP [National Congress for the Defense of the People], the rebel army that assimilated into the national army of Congo in a 2009 peace deal. M23 is comprised of former soldiers believed to be loyal to Bosco Ntaganda, a warlord wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes. The soldiers had been integrated into Congo's army, but left earlier this year after complaining of their treatment, amid threats by Congolese President Joseph Kabila to arrest Ntaganda.

Hundreds of former rebel army members mutinied, complaining that the government had not fulfilled promises of better pay and weapons. From the mutineers, the M23 - named for the March 23, 2009 peace deal - emerged. A UN report said there are indications the rebels are getting outside aid. U.N. experts say Rwanda and Uganda are backing M23. Both countries deny this. The UN Security Council is considering sanctions on M23 leaders and has demanded an end to "all outside support" of the group. A driving force behind the regional conflict are deposits of tin, gold, tungsten, and coltan, a mineral used in laptops and mobile phones in eastern Congo, where M23 operates.

While “considerable” progress had been made in combating the Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (FDLR) in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, in early 2012 a mutiny led by officers in the Congolese army had caused a serious deterioration of security in North and South Kivu provinces, and an easing of pressure on other armed groups operating in the region. The mutiny had been initiated by soldiers integrated into the Congolese army — the Forces d’armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC) — under agreements reached in 2009. Those soldiers were led by Bosco Ntaganda and Sultani Makenga. They had asserted that the terms of those agreements central to their interests had not been implemented.

The effective” response by the Congolese Government had substantially reduced numbers available for the mutiny and the parallel “M23” movement launched by Mr. Makenga. MONUSCO had been working closely with the Government and the FARDC since the start of those events in early April 2012 to limit civilian injury, provide aid, contain the conflict area, and restore order as quickly and effectively as possible. As a result, mutinous forces had been driven out of their base areas to an area near the town of Bunagana, close to the Ugandan and Rwandan borders.

Rwandan elements — estimated at 200 to 300 men — continued to fight within the ranks of the “M23” rebels. They had been recruited, trained and deployed from Rwanda. As was often the case, the upcoming conclusion of the MONUSCO mandate coincided with violence in the east of the country. With his arrest looming, Mr. Ntaganda — head of the “National Congress for the Defence of the People” militia group — had defected and launched a mutiny in a part of the country that was already largely destabilized. That had caused massive civilian displacement into neighboring States. Congolese army operations had drastically diminished the success of armed groups, although those groups continued to pose a major threat in some parts of the country. Work was under way to bolster the Government’s resources to protect its population and gradually assume MONUSCO responsibilities.

On 13 July 2012 the Pre-Trial Chamber II of the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued a new warrant of arrest for Bosco Ntaganda, following the request submitted on 14 May 2012 by the ICC Prosecutor. Mr Ntaganda, approximately 41 years old, is suspected of committing war crimes and/or crimes against humanity, from 1 September 2002 to the end of September 2003, in the context of the conflict in the Kivus, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Basing its decision on the evidence presented by the Prosecutor, Pre-Trial Chamber II considered that there are reasonable grounds to believe that Bosco Ntaganda is responsible for three counts of crimes against humanity, consisting in murder, rape and sexual slavery, and persecution. In accordance with the warrant of arrest, Bosco Ntaganda allegedly bears individual criminal responsibility for four counts of war crimes consisting of murder, attacks against the civilian population, rape and sexual slavery, and pillaging. The Chamber considered that the arrest of Bosco Ntaganda is necessary to ensure that he will appear before the judges and that he will not obstruct the investigation, as well as to prevent him from continuing with the commission of a crime within the ICC’s jurisdiction.

On September 11th, 2012 Human Rights Watch accuseed the March 23 Movement of rapes, killings, torture, abductions and recruiting children to work as soldiers. The report said M23 is leaving behind a “horrific trail of atrocities” in eastern Congo. Human Rights Watch said M23 has executed 33 of its own fighters for trying to desert. The rights group reports that 15 civilians have been killed in rebel territories since June 2012. M23 spokesman Vianney Kazarama strongly rejected the accusations. “Frankly, it is a false information, a false report. We reject this entire report. We invited Human Rights Watch to investigate these allegations. They never accepted it,” he said. “We consider HRW on Kinshasa's side.”

Uganda denounced a leaked United Nations report that said both Uganda and Rwanda are supporting rebels in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo — a charge both countries have denied. Reuters news agency obtained a copy of the 44-page report prepared by the Group of Experts, a U.N. Security Council committee in October 2012. According to Reuters, the report says Congo's M23 rebels are commanded by Rwanda's Minister of Defense James Kabarebe, and that both the Ugandan and Rwandan armies supported M23 in a series of July 2012 attacks to take over towns in Congo's Rutshuru territory. Uganda's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Wednesday the charges are “fabricated.” It said by leaking the report, which was supposed to be confidential, the Group of Experts are attempting to cause “mischief” and undermine regional efforts to end the DRC conflict.

United Nations helicopters launched an aerial attack on M23 rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo in October 2012, after fresh fighting broke an uneasy truce between the rebels and Congolese soldiers. The United Nations and local officials in eastern DRC say U.N. aircraft fired on M23 forces after they gained ground against troops in the town of Kibumba, driving the Congolese forces to the outskirts of town.

On 19 November 2012 the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Information Minister called on the international community to impose sanctions on Rwanda, following the latest fighting with the M23 rebel group. “To stop this aggression, you have to stop the hands of the aggressors,” said Information Minister Lambert Mende. “They must stop Rwanda, and the only way of stopping Rwanda is sanctions against Rwanda.” There was diplomatic tension between Kinshasa and Rwanda following accusations that the Kigali government has been supporting rebels fighting the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC) in north Kivu province. But, Rwanda has rejected accusations that it is supporting rebels, including the M23 group. “The government will never negotiate with terrorists,” continued Mende, “If there is a question of negotiating, [we will] negotiate with Rwanda instead of negotiating with the puppets of Rwanda.”

By mid-2013 M23 enjoyed continued, but had limited support from Rwanda. In particular, General Sultani Makenga, the military commander of M23, had been able to recruit demobilized Rwandan soldiers. But there was no evidence of full Rwandan army units supporting M23 since November 2012, when the rebels briefly occupied Goma. There were no current signs of Ugandan government support for the rebels, whereas in 2012 there was some Ugandan help for the movement. The Ugandan government denied those allegations.

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Page last modified: 09-11-2013 17:56:38 ZULU