Museveni, M23 rebels held secret meeting
Kampala: The M23 rebels, whose scorched-earth policy has left a trail of despair, destruction and death in the North Kivu province of Democratic Republic of Congo, last month travelled to Kampala and met President Museveni under a veil of secrecy, The Observer has learnt. Museveni has been credited for working to diffuse tensions in Uganda’s western neighbour, and it has now emerged that in doing that, he held an important meeting with one of the key players.
A highly placed source says the meeting was held shortly before this month’s International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) conference at the Commonwealth Resort Munyonyo.
“What I know is [Bosco] Ntaganda [the indicted leader of the M23] was not part of the team. But the team was here and met the President,” said a source who is privy to these discussions.
Although details of what came out of the meeting are still scanty, Museveni reportedly implored the M23 to call for a ceasefire and give dialogue a chance.
When contacted yesterday, the Permanent Secretary in the Foreign Affairs ministry, James Mugume, claimed ignorance of the meeting. “I am not aware that the M23 was here, but I will have to cross-check,” Mugume said by telephone.
Mugume says the inter-ministerial committee of defence ministers in the region, which was supposed to mull over the proposal and hammer out the details of the deployment of a neutral force, will complete its work by the end of this week.
“The next heads of state summit will be held on September 7 and 8 [in Kampala]. We shall once again invite the presidents for the meeting,” said Mugume. As the spectre of conflict still hangs over the future of North Kivu, the composition of a neutral force still remains a major obstacle.
“I have read the declaration and I still wonder who is neutral in this case. All these countries in the Great Lakes that appended signatures are partisan and have peculiar interests in the DRC, so this is the problem,” says Dr Philip Kasaija, an international law lecturer at Makerere University in Kampala and a regional security expert.
Aaron Mukwaya, a senior lecturer in the department of political science at Makerere University, agrees with Kasaija: “One thing I want to be frank about is that the conference was a flop. The leaders had a different agenda and there was a lot of behind-the-scenes bickering. They only agreed on the neutral force, which is hypothetical. How can the warring parties be neutral?”
It is a view shared by Dr Sabiiti Makara, another political science lecturer at Makerere. “They decided to leave it [neutral deployment] vague to buy some temporary relief,” he said.
Shortly after the declaration, which was signed by the heads of state last month, there was an ominous sign when the Congolese state minister for Foreign Affairs & International Cooperation, Raymond Tshibanda, said his country “cannot allow Rwanda to be part of the neutral force because it has played a hand in escalating the problem”.
Rwanda has been accused of supporting Bosco Ntaganda’s M23 rebels. In fact, Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame has been at the receiving end of a Western onslaught that included cutting aid to his country on grounds that he is backing M23 rebels. In turn, Kagame accuses the DRC of harbouring Hutu extremists who masterminded the Rwanda genocide in 1994.
“Only genuine negotiations can bring about lasting peace, because even if Rwanda were supporting M23 rebels, it has some legitimacy,” says Makara.
It remains to be seen whether Uganda will contribute to the neutral force as it has a lot on its plate. The UPDF has deployed thousands of troops to fight the al-Shabaab in Somalia, while another force is hunting warlord Joseph Kony, reportedly hiding in the Central African Republic.
It is not clear yet where the Great Lakes countries, with struggling economies, will get money to facilitate the neutral force. Uganda gave a contribution of $1m towards this cause.
“It is laughable that you can take on such a mission without funds. For example, about $ 45m is spent in Somalia every month,” Dr Kasaija notes.
Related: No Solution in Sight for Congo Conflict (Radio Netherlands Worldwide)