The protracted talks between the rebel M23 and the DR Congo in Kampala were recently thrown into a crisis when the UN Security Council unanimously authorized a new “intervention brigade” for the volatile eastern part of the country. The M23 also splintered into several groups. However, the head of the M23 delegation at the talks, Rene Abandi, told Emma Mutaizibwa that the intervention force could throw the region into anarchy.
How has the recent split among M23 leaders affected your organization?
We have since replaced Jean-Marie Runiga with Bertrand Bishimwa. Runiga was collaborating with the indicted war-criminal Gen Bosco Ntaganda and we decided to disassociate ourselves with him.
And how does that affect the Kampala talks between M23 and the DRC government?
We as M23 came up with a very positive proposal to the facilitator… we tried to accommodate the views of the Kinshasa regime. First we were very concerned about the flawed election, we wanted the Constitution changed and demanded that the Kabila-led government cancels the holders of the offices of governors of provinces and the national assembly MPs.
We had also demanded fresh elections to be organized at the grassroots. But we have chosen to look at the current situation and temporarily shelve these issues that violate the Constitution. We are trying to be as positive as we can, so that we can be able to deal with security, economic and social issues in eastern Congo. We also want to deal with the negative forces including the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (NALU), Burundi’s National Forces of Liberation (NFL) and Rwanda’s Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR). What we are putting on table is to say please government you have failed to solve some problems. We [M23] have to come as part of a solution.
But the Kampala talks could lack legitimacy after the UN unanimously agreed to deploy a neutral force [composed of South Africans and Tanzanians] to the region. First of all we have written letters to the South African government because we considered that the decision to send troops was from the president and Cabinet. In the letter, we have tried to explain to them that in the view of Pan-African consideration, it’s not good to abandon peace talks and go to fight.
We also did not expect support for such a radical resolution to come from such a respected country like South Africa where through their past, they used peaceful methods to fight injustice. We have also written to Tanzania wondering why people we take as our brothers and sisters should attack us.
We have also notified human rights organizations in Congo like the Red Cross, Medicin Sans Frontieres to prepare themselves for a humanitarian spillover as a result of the reckless UN Security Council decision. We don’t’ agree with the intervention brigade.
It’s coming to undermine us and it’s attempting to block the peaceful negotiations to a longstanding crisis. We have said before and I can repeat this for clarity that the military will not resolve problems of eastern Congo. The only solution is pacification through dialogue.
How about other negative forces reportedly created by Kinshasa to target Kinyarwanda speakers?
They are not different from the radical groups like Janjaweed and the Interahamwe. The brigade is coming to target the M23 and if they attack us, we have no option but to defend ourselves.
Why do you avoid Kampala by going to New York and yet when we were in Goma, other Great Lakes countries called us to withdraw? Supposing the brigade is defeated, will you run back to the region?
If [the intervention brigade] comes with the mandate to kill, they should expect to be killed as well. They are not peacekeepers. In case of an attack, we are ready to react to any provocation. If our men, civilian, soldiers or our cadres are killed, we shall avenge their deaths.
There is a perception that M23 is a Rwanda proxy.
Supposing you claim that Bafumbira are Rwandans, would you be correct? Let me give you my personal account. My grandfather was born in Rwanda but our ancestral land was later on annexed to the DRC by the colonialists. There is a time we belonged to a kingdom called Rwanda now we belong to the Republic of Congo.
Why do they have appetite for our territory? Where I come from, we all speak Kinyarwanda. Congolese is spoken in Angola, Congo Brazzaville and Kinshasa because some parts of Congo were annexed to those countries. However M23 does not consist of Kinyarwanda speakers. We have a national outlook. We are all concerned about the anarchy in the country and as citizens who have a stake in this country.
But the UN panel of experts blacklisted Rwanda and Uganda for giving you support.
It is very easy to lie. If you know the history of America, the indigenous people, the Red Indians eventually became Indians and not the indigenous people who were found in America and annihilated. I’m currently the head of delegation of M23 but up to today I don’t know Kayihura [Inspector General of Police] who was indicted by the UN report for purportedly giving arms to M23 rebels. Though he speaks the same language as me, it would be simplistic to assume that he gives us support.
Why is the DRC being defeated by 1,000 troops, isn’t it strange?
The excuse is Rwanda and Uganda. They [UN experts] have been lying that Ntaganda is being helped by Rwanda. All those pseudo experts make reports with a premeditated conclusion. Even before they set off from New York, they already have a decision. They only come to find an excuse to justify their conclusions. These people have their own agenda. They begin planning tomorrow’s wars today.
What is the ideological orientation of M23?
First we need reconciliation amongst Congolese, we are too polarized. Our ideological orientation consists of aspects of non-discrimination of all Congolese, irrespective of tribe and reconciliation. We need to think beyond aid agencies. Let us begin by producing goods and fighting the cancer of corruption. We also need the help of neighbours as partners of trade and integration. We need to look at our neighbours as opportunity. We also need eastern Congo to be secured peacefully, reform the judiciary, have a new Constitution which respects peoples’ liberties and address the plight of the poor.
There are accusations that M23 uses scorched-earth policy tactics to subdue civilians and rule over territory.
They have personally been accusing Ntaganda. His crimes have nothing to do with M23. He is being accused of his role in Katanga, Ituri with Thomas Lubanga of the UPC [Union of Congolese Patriots] leader, who has been indicted by the ICC.
We have nothing to do with him and I invite you to our land, you shall see how people are free to travel in the night. Our population is our ambassadors.
Why did Ntaganda hand himself over to the US embassy in Rwanda?
Gen Bosco Ntaganda was defeated by M23 and he had no choice but to flee or face death. It all started when he tried to assassinate Gen Makenga, who is commander of the armed wing of M23. He was totally defeated. He had to surrender or flee when we fought him near the national park of Virunga. He later on escaped towards the national park where he had nothing to eat. He entered Rwanda during the night and went directly to the embassy of America.