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Splits deepen within the M23

This blog post has been changed from its original version to remove the mention of a trip by Makenga and Bosco to Kigali; further research confirms that it probably never happened. 

Reports from various sources––the UN peacekeeping mission, M23 insiders, and the Congolese army––this afternoon suggest that the rift between Bosco Ntaganda and Sultani Makenga is deepening. Details are still vague, but it is clear that the long-standing tensions have escalated.

To recap: the two have been at loggerheads since the arrest of Laurent Nkunda in January 2009 by the Rwandan army and the subsequent nomination of Bosco Ntaganda as the head of the CNDP forces. Makenga was close to Nkunda, and never got along with Bosco, who built a clique around the officers who had served with him in Ituri––Innocent Zimurinda, Innocent Kaina (India Queen), adding to them Baudoin Ngaruye. They were known as the “Kimbelembele,” (Forward-Forward) while Makenga’s pro-Nkunda faction are the “Kifuafua.” (Chest Out) Their styles are also different: Makenga is cautious and discrete, while Bosco is known to be thuggish, calling for hits against officers he suspects of being disloyal and organizing bank heists in broad daylight in Goma.

These tensions grew after the M23 took Goma. The movement was growing in prominence, and Bosco wanted to be sure to control it––two of his allies are in the political wing, President Jean-Marie Runiga and Executive Secretary Francois Rucogoza. His people were also able to win the promotion of Baudoin Ngaruye to the chief-of-staff position of the M23.

But Bosco’s faction has grew nervous about the peace talks, feeling that they would be sidelined if there were a deal. Both Zimurinda and Bosco are on the UN sanctions list, Bosco is wanted by the ICC and has a $5 million award on his head, while India Queen is allegedly responsible for the killing of UN peacekeepers in Ituri. Makenga does not (yet) have any legal issues to contend with.

The departure from Goma also apparently caused friction, as Makenga confiscated a lot of the pillaged goods and punished some of the most deviant officers. Meanwhile, Makenga is said to be angered by the increasingly strict conditions of Nkunda’s detention––while he was active during the early days of the M23 rebellion, he reportedly is difficult to reach these days.

Whatever the problem––and it is difficult to be sure, given distortions from all sides––these splits will almost certainly have an impact on the peace talks, both those in Kampala, as well as any potential talks in the context of the Framework Agreement. It could play out in various ways––if Bosco feels cornered, he might try to launch operations to pre-empt a peace deal that could cost him his head; there have already been reports of this possibility. And the Congolese could try to play both sides against each other (although the reported plan of issuing arrest warrants against both factions, including against Makenga and Ngaruye, would suggest otherwise).

À suivre.

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