One of the major rebel movements opposed to the leadership of President Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), has warned Kinshasa not to underestimate its strength and vowed it would repulse any attempt to overrun and render it useless by any forces now in Eastern DRC.
In an exclusive interview with The London Evening Post at the Silver Springs Hotel just outside the Ugandan capital Kampala on Thursday, Rene Abandi the spokesman for the March 23 (M23) Movement, accused the Kinshasa regime of pandering to war rather than seeking solutions to the problems of the country that have seen over 30 different organisations take up arms to fight the Kabila regime.
Mr Abandi who is head of the M23 delegation to the Kampala peace talks with the Kabila regime, accused the DRC government of wasting the time and goodwill of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni who has put facilities in Kampala at the disposal of both delegations to sit down and discuss the best ways to end the DRC conflict that has now gone on since the early 1990s.
“Kinshasa could be underestimating our capacity since we [accepted] a ceasefire and withdrew from Goma”, Mr Abandi said. He was referring to last year’s capture of the eastern DRC town of Goma in November last year by the M23 who later withdrew after serious objections from most African Union member states. Speaking in a calm but strong voice that sounded full of confidence in what his Movement stood for, Abandi said his delegation had returned to Kampala last Sunday with the view of restarting the stalked peace negotiations with the Kabila government.
He said while the Kabila Government arrived in the country by private jet on Wednesday, they returned soon after, having called upon the Chief Facilitator for the talks, Ugandan Defence Minister Crispus Kiyonga and taking photo-call opportunities with selected Ugandan and international media houses before boarding their plane and returning to Kinshasa.
Abandi revealed that his Movement is yet to receive communication from the facilitator to update them on the way forward. He said since their arrival, they had been sitting around at the Hotel with almost nothing to do. But he denied allegations that his delegation of four people including himself was feeling rejected as they had returned to Uganda for the sole purpose of trying to find a solution to their country’s problems. “We [don’t] feel rejected. We are not here for statement but purpose. [We do not care] if they (the DRC government delegation) are on the right direction of the Kampala network.
The M23 accused the Kabila Government of not taking into consideration the views of UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon and the UN Special Envoy for DRC, former Irish President Mary Robinson who wants to have sincere talks to resolve the conflicts than resort to war. “They neglect Ban ki–Moon as they are targeting to use the UN force because their army has failed. They want to use [UN] peace keepers the as a deterrent,” the M23 spokesman said.
He went on to say that while his Movement wants a ceasefire, the DRC delegation wanted to stall the meetings “because they don’t believe in peace”. “We are not frustrated with what they are doing as we know them very well,” Abandi said, adding: “They accepted dialogue in order to ease pressure so [that we could] leave Goma for a dialogue but have no political will to solve the problem. They use this to steal money, [engage in] corruption or cheat, change the constitution and also show off.”
Abandi accused the Kabila government of not caring anymore about the plight of the Congolese. “This is bad governance with no moral authority to the people of Congo,” he said. While admitting to not having a time frame for dialogue with the DRC delegation, Mr Abandi said his Movement wanted to resume dialogue as soon as possible. Asked about the current situation in eastern DRC following internal clashes the Movement had early this year, Abandi said the Congolese people still had a lot of faith in them. He revealed that even if the talks fail, they will simply return to areas under their control and would not be mounting any attacks on anybody else.
“We know they are willing to attack us but there will be nothing but to react. We will repulse them,” the M23 vowed. He once again denied accusations that Rwanda and Uganda were arming and giving them military support. Claiming this was an old story that no one else refers to anymore, Mr Abandi said the UN had now found out the truth about these claims.
He appealed to the Ugandan government to put more pressure on the DRC regime to return to the negotiating table and avoid imposing war on the people of the DRC. Asked what advice the M23 can give to the Kabila regime, Abandi said: “You know when the leadership is tired and lacks vision, it becomes anxious. That is now the problem. They think they are losing. A peace talk is a win, win situation. No loser no winner. If a leader has such an attitude, it is then a pity.”
Turning to his countrymen, Mr Abandi asked them to “gather together and honour our views and overcome statements of hate of Easterners and Westerners vis-à-vis, Kiswahili speakers to Lingala speakers, local mother languages and others”. “We are going back to Kivu so as push with political means [in] a democratic manner.”
Abandi said since they retreated from Goma at the end of last year, the M23 has grown strong through the support of the people. “We are no longer splitting. Our army is still the most disciplined than ever, but of course being strong doesn’t push us to change our style which is, durable peace can only come through dialogue,” he emphasized. Now stationed near Goma Rune, Abandi said they are monitoring the situation and if they are attacked, the attacker will lose ground and equipment.
He said so far the pending pertinent issues the M23 is faced with is security, social-economic issues and political matters in war-torn areas. The M23 is now occupying the areas along the borders with Uganda and Rwanda in the areas of Rutshuru District and Nyiragongo areas in the Eastern parts of Dr Congo areas.