By Nkonge I Kaggwa in Kampala and Diana S Katabarwa in Rutshuru
The Marche 23 (M23) Movement fighting the regime of President Joseph Kabila in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has denied it has any interest breaking up this vast country by creating another country within the DRC, one of the largest countries in the world. Speaking to journalists in Kampala, Rene Abandi, the spokesman of the M23 and chief of the M23 delegation at the now abandoned Kampala peace talks, said their struggle is aimed at liberating the whole country and seeking for solutions to unite it.
Reports have been emerging that the renegade rebel group is set to penalize 13 people after being tried for crimes committed within the areas of jurisdiction of the M23. The trials were seen as an attempt by the guerilla movement to establish their own laws in the area that they occupy
Explaining the reason for the trial of these men, Mr Abandi said: “We want to offer services to our people. We need to administer and can’t have people who are unruly, stealing, raping women and other crimes.” The 13 people were tried in courts of law established by the M23. Abandi said: “We try our soldiers and cadres whenever they commit any crime. That’s why they are disciplined and we want a peaceful society. Whenever we do something good for our people, the Kinshasa government views it negatively yet they can’t offer services to the people.” He says “they are saying that we are in support of impunity, but we are trying the rogue elements within our society and the only way to do that is, such people to go for trial we are practicing justice and the laws we are using is that of Kinshasa not our own laws”.
He added that people in the eastern DRC are in dire need of services which the Kabila regime has failed to offer in the past decades. He said these include vaccination, education among other services which they are trying to offer for their people. “Our country has turned out to be a den and hub of many forces like the LRA, ADF among other forces. If they come like refugees that can be okay. Indeed our people cannot guarantee peace if there is such an environment.”
Abandi revealed that while having a wish to create a country, there were things to do like creating boundaries which they have not created. “People in Katanga want to create their own country and they have forces to let that dream come true,” Abandi said. He added that the Katanga people were now calling themselves Kata –Katanga. He said UN forces that form the UN Monitoring Force in Congo (MONUC) have heavily deployed in those areas. He added that the problems the Kinshasa government was facing today were self-made problems after president Kabila gave his citizens 24 hours to leave their country in 1996. He said some of those people went to neighbouring Burundi, Uganda and Rwanda which was bad and now many are willing to go back to their country saying a national disaster zone has been created from Ituri-Kivu north and south Bakata and some parts of northern Katanga where over 30 armed groups are now operating.
He said he foresees more problems in the vast country in future alleging that the Kinshasa government is in support of the Mai-Mai rebels like it is in Sudan where government is in support of the Janjaweed rebels who are creating a lot havoc in Sudan.
When asked by The London Evening Post on reports raised by the outgoing UN special representative in DRC, Rogers Meese that the M23 was recruiting child soldier, Abandi strongly denied this. He said: “The M23 knows what it is doing and is aware about the international obligations. If you really want to recruit such children, do you recruit only 33 children? Really how can you recruit in open? Is Meese our recruitment commander?”
He said such claims were among many other claims they are trying to label them locally and internationally so as they could weaken them. “They are using the media to fight tarnish our cause abusing the communication systems”. Strongly adds that “The truth can pass through fire but it will not burn, the truth is to fight for the cause of our people time will give us victory”.
About the on and off peace talks in Kampala, Abandi said they are aware that the facilitator has met with the officials of the Kinshasa government. He stressed that the M23 wanted to deal with the Kabila delegation directly so as to bring to an end the problems of DRC. “Uganda is enjoying development, so is Kenya, Rwanda, among others. Why not our country? This is what we often ask ourselves and our colleagues in Kinshasa.”
Meanwhile, the M23 has continued with organising the areas under their control as if they are running a state. Throughout DRC, national Advanced Level exams are organized each year for thousands of students around the end of June. This year the sessions for the whole country began on 24th June. In M23 territory the examinations were conducted without incident and furthermore, the candidates received support from M23.
Two main examination centers were available for all final examinations candidates in the territory controlled by M23 but some students came from government controlled areas to join their colleagues in M23 territory and all were gathered at Kinyamahura and Rutshuru.
Last Monday at exactly 9am in Kinyamahura, the sealed container of examinations materials were opened by the head of the examinations centre at Busimba Secondary School located near Jomba Catholic Parish. The Candidates were then briefed about the examinations rules and procedures with emphasis made on the need for discipline and resisting temptations to cheat.
In order to guarantee the participation of all eligible candidates, the Chairman of the M23, Bertrand Bisimwa, decided to pay up the fees for financially disadvantaged students who would not have been allowed to sit for the final examinations because of outstanding fees arrears. General Makenga, the Vice- Chairman and Chief of the M23 military wing, assured candidates of their security and reminded them that as sons and daughters of the nation they all had a right to education and employment opportunities.
After wishing success to the 436 candidates at Kinyamahura, the leaders of M23 went to the Rutshuru examinations centre. There they encountered the same problem of some students on the verge of not sitting for the final examinations because of outstanding fees arrears. The M23 leadership felt it would be very unfortunate for those students to lose a whole year as a consequence of poverty so the Movement paid up the fees arrears on behalf of those students to enable them sit for the exams. What is most certain is that the financially disadvantaged students in government controlled territory were not as fortunate. More than 2000 candidates in M23 held territory began their final examinations in a very calm and safe atmosphere.