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Will Luanda agreement hold this time? Concern about renewed fighting, influx of refugees from DR Congo

This coming week promises to be decisive for the conflict in eastern DR Congo as the East African Regional Force prepares to take over areas vacated by the Congolese rebel group, M23.

The Luanda agreement signed last November, under the leadership of Angolan President João Lourenço, the African Union designated mediator, directed the M23 rebels to “withdraw to its initial positions, as per the Extraordinary Meeting of the Chiefs of General Staff of the EAC Armed Forces of November 8, 2022.”

With the Kenyan contingent of the EARF already in place, what is expected next is the “creation of conditions for the occupation of M23 currently controlled zones by the EAC Regional Force with the support of MONUSCO and the Ad-Hoc Verification Mechanism.”

Observers are watching to see if this next step in the peace plan will also be implemented.

The facilitator of the East African Community-led peace process in eastern DR Congo, former Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, met with leaders of M23 in Mombasa earlier this week, where they pledged to adhere to the directive for an orderly withdrawal. Concerns were also raised about civilians’ safety and the upholding of citizen rights in DR Congo.

However, other developments in the past week raise red flags about the intentions of the Congolese government and military, and their sincerity in sticking to the roadmap agreed in Luanda.

Notably, the Chief of Staff of the Congolese Armed Forces, Lt Gen Christian Tshiwewe, arrived in Goma on January 10, with much fanfare, for what was described as a working visit. Reliable sources reveal that Tshiwewe held meetings with leaders of irregular armed groups, including the genocidal militia, FDLR, to coordinate a new FARDC offensive alongside newly arrived foreign mercenaries and other Congolese irregular armed groups.

This development raises concerns about risks to the Kenyan troops deployed in the EAC Regional Force, civilian casualties in the area, as well as the continued targeting of at-risk communities who have been regular victims of FDLR and other brutal armed groups allied to the genocidal militia.

Reports indicate that Kinshasa has hired hundreds of mercenaries, some of whom are already in Goma, the capital of North Kivu province.

An investigation by German newspaper Taz claims that “dozens, maybe a hundred white men in uniforms, with guns from Eastern Europe, many from Romania, but speaking fluent French”, are staying at a hotel in Goma and have been seen in and around the city. Civilian sources in the area have said that they have seen armed white men on patrol alongside the Congolese armed forces and other irregular armed groups, including FDLR, on the Goma-Kibumba axis.

Asked for a comment on these worrying developments, Government Spokesperson, Yolande Makolo, said: “We have information that renewed fighting is imminent, following the visit of the head of the DR Congo military to the region.

“This would not be the first time that the DR Congo sabotages plans to bring peace to the region. Rwanda is concerned about the potential for a new influx of refugees fleeing the new offensives. It would be extremely counterproductive and dangerous to attack troops of the EAC Regional Force, and put more civilians at risk.”

Of particular concern is the participation of senior Congolese military leaders including Col. Salomon Tokolanga who was pinpointed by the UN Group of Experts as having led the infamous meeting with FDLR and other illegal armed groups in Pinga, in May 2022, where an alliance was formed to fight alongside the FARDC against M23. It is understood that the groups present at the meeting were provided with funds and promised weapons for the new offensive.

In a separate meeting that Tshiwewe and the military governor of North Kivu province, Lt Gen Constant Ndima Kongba, held with civil society and opinion leaders, the focus was reportedly on mobilizing violent demonstrations against the EAC regional forces stationed in Goma. This comes following hostile posts on social media by Congolese individuals and groups against the Kenyan forces, calling for demonstrations aimed at chasing out the Kenyan forces.

Considering that the Congolese army is reportedly providing support and weapons to illegal armed groups that are supposed to be disarming and demobilizing following the recent third round of dialogue in Nairobi, the prospects for a breakthrough in implementation of the Luanda Agreement and the Nairobi Process, appear uncertain.

Asked about this, Makolo said: “The Luanda roadmap is the best chance for peace for our region, and all parties should abide by this agreement. In addition, the DR Congo military is making a mockery of the Nairobi Process by continuing to support, arm, and fight alongside illegal armed groups.

“The leaders of our region have invested extraordinary efforts in helping bring peace to the DRC, and this commitment must not be wasted.”

Source: The New Times