The Congolese army is battling two militias in eastern DRC, the M23 rebel group, comprising mostly ethnic Tutsi militia, and the ADF, a Ugandan Muslim armed force. The UN has a new intervention force.
The Democratic Republic of Congo said on Monday (15.07.2013) it had killed 120 fighters belonging to the M23 rebel movement to the north of Goma. The insurgents deny these claims. The fighting comes after Uganda's Red Cross Society confirmed 66,000 Congolese refugees had crossed into the east African country. They were fleeing another battle zone in which the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) was attacking Kamangu, a town in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. The UN has deployed a new 3,000-strong Intervention brigade with a tough mandate to fight armed groups in eastern Congo.
DW's Mark Caldwell spoke to Thierry Vircouloun, Project Director for Central Africa with the International Crisis Group (ICG).
DW: Why has this fighting flared up on two fronts?
Thierry Vircoulon: I think it's mainly a coincidence. There is no link between them. It's clear that the fighting between the M23 and the Congolese army is a direct result of the dead end of the Kampala negotiations. The talks in Kampala have dragged on since December last year without any meaningful results. Therefore it's very clear for all the stakeholders that there won't be a diplomatic settlement to the problem between the M23 and the Congolese government. Therefore the only way to change the situation is actually through the military way. I would say that in the northern part of Kivu, the ADF is not involved in the same kind of fighting with the Congolese army. It's small clashes that have happened and the ADF has withdrawn to remote areas after temporarily taking some villages and taking some hostages. The main fighting is happening between M23 and the Congolese army and the M23 remains the main target of the Congolese army.
The UN has its largest peacekeeping mission in the world in the DRC, including a new intervention brigade. What have they done so far to stop the fighting?
So far the UN has not done anything to stop the fighting. They have called on the Congolese army and other parties to calm down, but it's clear that there is a window of opportunity for military action as seen from Kinshasa, firstly because the Kampala negotiations are not moving forward and secondly because fighting the M23 is very popular in Congo unlike negotiating with them. Thirdly, it seems like the M23 itself was very weakened by the internal fighting that happened at the beginning of the year
So what are the M23's objectives at the moment?
I think at the moment the objective of the M23 is to resist the Congolese army and try to keep its position close to Goma.
What can you tell us about the UN's new intervention brigade, what is its current status?
The brigade is not fully operational, the Tanzanian and South African components of the brigade have arrived in Goma, north Kivu, but the contingent from Malawi is not yet here. I also understand that the brigade has not received all its equipment. However the MONUSCO commander has sent a very strong warning saying all civilians with a gun won't be considered as civilians. It's not clear at this stage what is going to be the first target of that intervention brigade. As far as I understand, no operation by this brigade had been planned before this coming September. Howeve, given the development on the ground, the UN may be forced to intervene faster than they wanted to.
Thierry Vircoulon is the Project Director for Central Africa with the International Crisis Group (ICG).