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How many M23 can reintegrate?

The peace talks in Kampala have stalled since President Kabila went to the UN General Assembly. The two week extension announced by the facilitation has expired, and while the parties are set to convene again this week in Kampala––and despite occasions outbursts of optimism from diplomats––there is little sign that much has fundamentally changed.

The main issue is still the fate of the top leadership of the M23. While the M23 has officially claimed that they do not want to integrate into the Congolese army, in practice the talks have revolved around the issue of amnesty and integration for M23 officers. At a meeting in Mbarara around two weeks ago, the Ugandan facilitation pushed the Congolese government––represented by the head of the intelligence service, Kalev Mutond––to be more flexible regarding the issue of amnesty. The initial position of the Congolese was that there should be no “recidivism,” as they put it. In other words, those who had already benefited from amnesty in the 2009 deal could not receive a second amnesty for the crime of insurrection. That meant that the entire officer corps of the M23 couldn’t integrate. The Congolese, fresh from their victory against the M23 in late August, seemed eager to return to the battlefield.

Since then, the Congolese have relaxed their position a little, without really changing the impasse. On 19 September 2013, Communications Minister Lambert Mende said that they have a list of around 100 people who couldn’t integrate. While the M23 might number between 800-1,500 troops, the list of hundred included every single important commander (see here for the list). In recent talks at the UN General Assembly and in Kampala, there are suggestions that the Congolese could go down to 30 or 40 officers.

But is the problem here really the Congolese? It is true that excluding 30+ of the top commanders is tantamount to rejecting any peaceful compromise. But even if the Congolese would be willing to go down to fewer than ten––which some close to Kabila suggest they are––it will still be next to impossible to get the M23 to agree to the arrest or send its own leadership into exile. And it’s not just the Congolese drawing red lines––the US has sanctions against Kaina and Makenga (and Ngaruye and Zimurinda, who are in Rwanda), and the UN has denounced the same five for atrocities.

The closer one looks at the problem, the more one wonders why so much emphasis is being put on negotiations with the M23, who are unlikely to hand over their top commanders. More and more, it appears that the solution for the problems of the M23 has to be sought between Kigali and Kinshasa, not between Kinshasa and the M23.

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