Despite official indications by the Congolese government, the military situation on the ground against the M23 rebellion has not changed much. Several days ago, the government launched another push up the mountains against the rebellion. According to the government spokesman, they took several hills and victory appeared to be within reach. On Monday, the armed forces commander Gen Didier Etumba gave a presentation to a ministerial meeting in which he said that they had killed 200, wounded 250 and prompted 374 others to surrender.
Other reports from the ground, however, contradict this picture. A senior Congolese military officer told me, “We advanced a little, but then withdrew again. Nothing has changed much.” A United Nations official reported that the offensive had smaller than expected, and that few gains had been made on either side.
At the same time, there are persistent rumors that M23 is trying to open a second front in Masisi, and that further meetings are taking place to mobilize political leaders, especially from the Hutu and Tutsi communities, to join the movement.
Meanwhile, talks between Rwanda and the Congo continue. Last week, a joint verification team interviewed the 11 Rwandan M23 defectors who were in a MONUSCO demobilization camp in Goma. The defectors’ story changed slightly, as they now denied that Rwandan officers had taken them to the border, and they said the uniforms they had received were Congolese, not Rwandan. But they still maintained that they were recruited in Rwanda, passed through Kinigi, and provided with weapons and ammunition there. Following this joint verification, the two countries have not yet been able to sign a joint statement reflecting the defectors’ testimony.
Rwanda continues to maintain that they played no role in supporting the rebellion, while in private many Congolese officials insist on the contrary. The dossier is now reportedly in President Kabila’s hands – he will have to decide on whether to continue to treat these allegations bilaterally, through the joint commission, or to take the debate into the open, or at least to lobby diplomats more forcefully. (Meanwhile, the US State Department put out a statement that tried to placate all sides, warning against “outside support” for FDLR as well as M23.) Yesterday, there were indications from Kinshasa that the latter strategy might prevail, which could change dynamics.