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What next after Museveni warns Belgium on DR Congo?

By Haggai Matsiko

Kabila’s European allies have eyes on country’s mineral wealth

The Kampala talks between the DR Congo government and the M23 rebel group might collapse if Kinshasa’s new internationally-powered attitude and that of her backers does not change. Collapse of talks in Kampala, many observers fear, will spark fresh pounding of eastern DR Congo putting regional security at stake once again.

Ever since the first round of Kampala talks collapsed in December last year leading to a fresh war that for the first time put UN’s blue helmets in the line of fire, Kinsansha has been gung-ho.

President Joseph Kabila, who had lost Goma to the fire of the rebels that mutinied from his forces after he reneged on a March 23, 2009 deal, gained more confidence when his forces together with a 3,000-strong UN Intervention Brigade, made considerable gains against M23.

Decades of war have been very disastrous to DRC but following these gains, Kabila has been more than ready to battle the M23. Even as the Heads of State of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) called for a ceasefire, Kabila was not as enthusiastic about it. His security chiefs were even against a cease-fire.

Surfing the wave of international support, sustained by a multiplicity of interests, Kabila is not keen on M23’s demands and could be underestimating their ability to militarily resist him and his allies.

That is why Kabila’s commitment to the talks remains lackadaisical. For instance, the rebels and the DRC delegation have held bilateral talks only twice mainly because the leaders of the government delegation are hardly in Kampala.

Hot and cold is how sources describe the government’s attitude towards the talks. Yet at the same time, the government delegation is the most loaded as far as conditions are concerned. M23 finds most of these conditions against the spirit of charting a path for resolving the crisis.

The saber-rattling of the officials in the government delegation is also shameless according to M23 officials. Sources involved in the talks told The Independent that in one of the two bilateral meetings, instead of addressing sticking points of the talks, officials from the government delegation focused on issuing threats.

“Our army has never been stronger,” Kelev Mutondo, the chief of DRC’s National Intelligence Agency, reportedly told the M23 delegation, “if you do not surrender your arms, we are coming to annihilate you.”

For M23, this was unsettling especially considering that the facilitator of the talks, Uganda’s Defence Minister Crispus Kiyonga, had stepped out and urged the two parts to have a moment as Congolese and reflect on solutions.

“One would expect that such a moment would be used to talk honestly but here was someone unleashing threats and showing they are more than ready to fight,” an M23 official intimated to The Independent about the incident that took place in Mbarara, western Uganda, a few days after the Heads of State called for talks.

It is safe to say that regional leaders dragged Kabila back to the talking table with the rebels. As such, President Joseph Kabila came loaded with his conditions. He wants the rebels to surrender their arms.

The rebels have asked him to first clear eastern Congo of other rebel groups, ensure refugees return, among others before they can surrender their weapons. Kabila cannot pull this off as several rebel groups have turned his backyard into a safe haven and cannot be easily uprooted.

M23 notes that it is in this environment that Kinsasha forces attacked M23 on Sept.26. But Kinsasha maintains that the clash was sparked by an attack from the rebels.

For some of those involved, including regional leaders, Kinsasha’s actions and rhetoric can only be interpreted as a sign that the backing of the western powers has made President Kabila indifferent towards the talks.

Indeed, when President Yoweri Museveni, who chairs International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), got an audience with some of Kabila’s western backers, he did not mince his words.

Museveni reportedly told the Belgian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belgium, Didier Reynders and the Minister for Development and Cooperation Jean Pascal Labille that European powers should not encourage Kabila to ignore his opponents (M23).

“Bemba is in jail in Europe, Lubanga is in jail in Europe, Ntaganda is in jail in Europe and you are adding more,” Museveni said while meeting the officials on the sidelines of the 68th UN General Assembly in New York. “Politically what are you doing? You can’t say you have failed to manage your people and are surrendering them to another country.”

The three, Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, Thomas Lubanga Dyilo and John Bosco Ntaganda are all facing international trials at the International Criminal Court (ICC) after allegedly committing war-related atrocities in the never-ending DR Congo wars.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has already slapped a US$10 billion fine on Uganda to compensate for alleged violations including looting and pillaging by Museveni’s troops in the DR Congo in the early 2000s.

It is not far-fetched to imagine the DR Congo and its European allies attempting to have Museveni arraigned before the ICC or ICJ.

A State House press statement after Museveni’s meeting with the Belgians, noted that the president warned that they [Europe] risked becoming part of the problem rather than the solution in Congo if they pumped up Kabila. Museveni could not have addressed a better person.

Interest in minerals

M23 says Belgium and France are the biggest stumbling blocks against the talks and a peaceful resolution for the Congo crisis. Several officials have also expressed this view.

The new-found love between Kabila and Belgium is a slap in the face of those still hurting from the former colonial master’s brutal and barbaric rule.

The current conflict in the eastern part of the DR Congo can be traced to the 1950 when Belgium backed a rebellion by Moise Tshombe against the first Congolese prime minister after its independence, Patrice Lumumba. The goal of the Belgians, even back then, was the mineral wealth of the Katanga region of the DR Congo.

Today, the Belgian company, Umicore, imports most its cobalt from mines and suppliers in Katanga. Jean-Luc Dehaene, a former long-serving Belgian prime minister, has served on Umicore’s board and Etienne Davignon, a former member of the European Commission and chairman of the Bilderberg Group, has been a vice-president at Umicore.

According to sources, when the French-language magazine Marianne published the names of ten men implicated in the 1961 assassination of Lumumba, the name Davignon was on it.

Davignon reportedly worked for the Belgian foreign ministry at the time of Lumumba’s murder and reportedly drew up a telegram recommending Lumumba’s “removal.”

The case of the assassination of Kabila’s father, Laurent Kabila, has also never been resolved as the trial of the suspects has never been concluded 12 years later.

Kabila’s father, Laurent Desire Kabila in 1996 was backed by Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi, and mainly Tutsi Banyamulenge forces from eastern DR Congo to wrestle power from the late Mobutu Sese Seko.

Two years later, he felt out with his backers and established links with Angola, Namibia, and Zimbabwe. But by the time of his assassination three years later, even these new-found allies had deserted him.

Joseph Kabila has from the time he took power equally faced resistance from one rebel group or another from the eastern DR Congo. He has formed an alliance with the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) members, especially South Africa and Angola, and convinced the UN for the first time in its history, to deploy an intervention brigade to fight the rebels alongside the Kinshasa government forces.

It is not totally out of the blue that Didier Reynders during his visit to DR Congo in August praised Kabila’s handling of the conflict with the M23.

Reynders also touched on the subject of Rwanda and Uganda’s role in the M23 crisis. The UN group of experts has alleged – though in the case of Uganda retracted – claims of support to M23.

Reynders said that there was need for the 11 African countries that signed the Feb.24 Framework Agreement, including Rwanda and Uganda, to support the process positively.

“…So it is clear we need to see – Uganda, Rwanda – a willingness to participate to the solution, and not be accused of participating in the problem, “ the Belgian official said.

In New York, it was as if Museveni had been waiting for the moment to speak directly to Reynders and other European Kabila backers.

“President Kabila is the one to resolve this now not us,” Museveni told Reynders, “The demands of the M23 group are no longer a problem. He can agree to this and remain with a narrow frontline. The solution for M23 should be to talk when dealing with this kind of problem.”

Integration of the rebels is one of the major issues in this crisis.

Kampala talks pointless?

Museveni emphasised the need for DR Congo officials not to focus on individuals but rather on criteria to sort issues and also provide for rehabilitating and reintegration of some groups.

“The solution is to put criteria in place where anybody can pass by it to be accommodated and those who don’t to be retired with benefits,” he said.

Museveni’s position contradicted Reynders’.

“I think the Congolese authorities went beyond what is possible…” Reynders had said during his visit to the DR Congo, “We cannot ask the Congolese, and I also hope they do not do, to reintegrate into the army people who rebelled once, twice, three times…”

To M23 and those pro-Kampala talks, Reynders was understood to mean that the rebel group was no longer worth talking to.

Lambert Mende, the DR Congo information minister, told reporters that Kinshasa had put together a list of around 100 M23 commanders who will not be eligible for amnesty or for reintegration into the national army.

These 100, he said, had taken part in multiple rebellions, were on international sanctions lists or had committed war crimes and crimes against humanity.

“To reintegrate these individuals would legitimate recourse to armed violence and insurrection,” Mende was quoted in international media as saying adding that the rest of the estimated 1,700 M23 rebels would be considered on a case by case basis.

Mende’s statement can only serve to scuttle talks. This is mainly because the 100, most of them in command positions, are the heart of M23 and the fighters would never surrender knowing their commanders will be witch-hunted.

Some the M23 rebels The Independent has talked to have only praises for the personality and the fighting credentials of their commander, Col. Sultan Makenga. It is doubtful that they would just forsake him. But even if they did, as long as the demands of the group are still undressed, new blood with those same grievances would still join him or join the ‘cause’ in his footsteps.

This is what those against amnesty miss. The UN has not announced a list of its own but it is also against the amnesty for all.

The rhetoric of UN officials too has not gone well with those who see a solution in the talks. Many have found unsettling statements by Herve Ladsous, the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations that M23 has suffered casualties and withdrew to “lick their wounds”.

Rene Abandi, the M23 head of delegation in Kampala, expressed his disappointment against some of these but maintained that they are still focused on the talks.

“M23 is still attached to the process of talks and we are still hopeful that it is through this dialogue that the root causes of the conflict can be addressed,” Abandi notes.

As the situation stands, Museveni once again finds himself in a complex web with numerous diplomatic, political and security strands and with many actors involved. How and if or not he will manage to wiggle through it is what remains to be seen.

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