M23 rebel chief speaks out on Rwanda, Uganda links

This photo shows soldiers operating near Kibumba, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Nov. 21, 2022. (Xinhua/Alain Uaykani)

This photo shows soldiers operating near Kibumba, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Nov. 21, 2022. (Xinhua/Alain Uaykani)

The President of the March 23 Movement (M23), Bertrand Bisimwa, has refuted persistent accusations by the Democratic Republic of Congo that the rebel movement is supported by Rwanda and Uganda. Bisimwa argued that if these allegations were true, M23 would have captured the DRC capital, Kinshasa, within two months.

DRC has repeatedly accused Rwanda and Uganda of backing the M23 rebels, a claim that both countries and the rebels vehemently deny. During his presidential campaign in Kinshasa, the incumbent president, Félix Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo disclosed that he decided to sever ties with Rwandan President Paul Kagame.

Tshisekedi stated that he took this step after realizing that Kagame had exploited his trust and good intentions to destabilize the North Kivu region. Tshisekedi emphasized that their paths have diverged permanently, and any future meeting would occur before God, the ultimate judge, who would discern between good and bad.
“I made the decision to end my collaboration with the Rwandan President because I realized that he had abused my trust by using my good intentions to destabilize the North Kivu region. Our paths are separated forever. Our eventual meeting will be before God who created us. He will judge us and know who was the good and the bad,” says Tshisekedi.

However, Bisimwa dismissed these accusations, asserting that the reasons prompting M23’s fight were independent and not connected to Rwanda and Uganda. He questioned why Tshisekedi did not disclose to the public why the government failed to implement a peace deal made with M23 years ago. Bisimwa argued that if Uganda and Rwanda were indeed backing M23 with their strong armies, Tshisekedi’s government would have collapsed within two months.

Bisimwa further accused the DR Congo government, under Tshisekedi, of ignoring advice from East African Community heads of states to engage in dialogue with M23 and resolve the conflicts. He claimed that the government was misleading by attributing the crisis to neighboring countries of Uganda and Rwanda.

According to DR Congo’s Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI), a presidential election scheduled for December 20, 2023, has attracted 25 candidates contesting against the incumbent Félix Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo, seeking his second term. However, the government has cited unfavorable conditions in Rutshuru, Masisi, and Nyiragongo territories in North Kivu province due to the occupation by M23 rebels, stating that elections cannot be conducted.

The conflict between M23 rebels and the DR Congo government has displaced approximately one million people. The most recent fighting occurred in Kitchanga and Kilorirwe, Masisi territory, on Tuesday. Efforts by the East African Community Regional Force in the province have yet to yield success in ending the gunfire exchanges to facilitate dialogue between the conflicting parties. The latest gunfire exchange in Kalenga, about 8 kilometers from the town of Sake on Sunday evening, favored M23.

In March 2022, M23 rebels led by Bertrand Bisimwa and General Sultan Makenga initiated a conflict against the government. While the DR Congo government accuses Rwanda of supporting M23, both Rwanda and M23 strongly deny the allegations. The rebels claim their fight is against bad leadership in DR Congo characterized by corruption, xenophobia, and discrimination.

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