After their holiday break, talks between M23 and the Congolese government restarted in Kampala almost a month ago, on January 14. As argued here before, the two sides came the talks with radically different visions of what should be discussed, with the M23 insisted on discussing matters far beyond the narrow issues of violence in Rutshuru and Masisi. After weeks of negotiations, the two sides finally signed the first part of a deal on Wednesday, an evaluation of the March 23, 2009 agreement.
You can read the evaluation here – it is broken down into parts of the March 23 deal that have been accomplished, partially implemented, and not yet carried out. It’s a real smorgasbord, with 21 distinct parts of the agreement that have been poorly or not at all implemented. Some of the issues that the government has not implemented: local community policing, and a mixed ex-CNDP/FARDC police to secure areas for refugee return; the creation of a ministry for local affairs, security, and reconciliation; the release of all political prisoners. The facilitation recommended setting up a commission to investigate the status of political prisoners and whether abuse of ex-CNDP soldiers took place.
However, this part of the deal, while important, is largely window-dressing––for the government, it’s the next part of the peace deal, relating to the integration of the M23, that is crucial. It has now proposed to the Ugandan facilitation that it is willing to reintegrate the all M23 soldiers below the rank of major into the national army (they have to be physically fit and Congolese citizens). These soldiers would be taken to training centers and redeployed throughout the country.
Commanders who are wanted under national or international arrests warrants would be arrested. This includes the “Big Five”: Bosco Ntaganda, Sultani Makenga, Innocent Zimurinda, Baudouin Ngaruye, and Innocent Kaina. (The last four do not have arrests warrants yet, but the Congolese are preparing them.) These are probably the five most powerful commanders in the M23. The remaining officers over the rank of major could receive a demobilization package and the be reintegrated into civilian life.
Obviously, the M23 will not be very open to this deal, which the Ugandans reportedly relayed to them yesterday. The Ugandans will apparently also confirm that they do not have the mandate to discuss the issues that the M23 are most interested in––political demands relating to the structure of the state, electoral and security sector reform.
En bref, it look like the talks will not be able to overcome the profound differences that have been obvious since the two delegations first arrived in Kampala. The Congolese foreign minister has now returned to Kinshasa and has said that the two delegations should be reduced to six members each. In private, Congolese diplomats suggest that, if the M23 do not agree with their offer, they will rely on the Neutral International Force to force them into submission. This force, following a dispute between SADC and the United Nations over its command, is likely to be deployed in the coming months with Tanzanian, Zimbabwean, Malawian and South Africa troops.
If fighting resumes, the are worrying signs that there could be an increased “militia-ization” of the conflict. The Congolese army has begun supporting some armed groups in Masisi and Rutshuru, and there have been persistent reports of contacts with the FDLR. And the M23 has long wanted to broaden its base and networks.