AFRICANGLOBE – Fierce fighting between two DR Congo rebel factions of M23 broke out on Friday with one group led by Gen. Sultani Makenga causing 718 rebel fighters led by ex-political leader Jean-Marie Runiga to flee to Rwanda.
For the past three weeks, two factions have emerged in M23 – with one led by former M23 president Runiga and another by Sultani Makenga, M23 military leader and the vice president of the movement. Runiga has been detained separately for his safety. He has requested to go to Uganda.
Among those who fled to Rwanda include close to 50 politicians in Runiga’s faction as well as Col. Baudoin Ngaruye, who a few weeks defected to Runiga’s camp.
Upon arrival in Rwanda, the rebels were disarmed and secured at Gasizi and Kabuhanga hills in Rubavu District along the Rwanda-DR Congo border, Army spokesman Brig. Joseph Nzabamwita said.
At Gasizi, the rebels looked worn out, dressed in civilian and military attires. Among them were 159 casualties.
The rebels crossed over with weapons that included submachine guns, machine guns, 12.5mm, Rocket Propelled Grenade Launchers (RPGs) pistols and ammunition.
“We disarmed the fighters upon arrival; we separated them from the civilians. We will handle the combatants, the refugees and the ammunition according to the provisions of the international humanitarian laws and conventions,” said Nzabamwita.
Runiga’s military commander, Ngaruye, said they were attacked by Gen. Makenga, the Congolese army (FARDC) and the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).
“We ran out of ammunition and couldn’t hold the battle front any longer; we had to run and that’s show we ended up here,” said Ngaruye.
He alleged that one of the reasons why they split from the original M23 was because Makenga was planning to re-integrate the forces in FARDC.
However, a statement released three weeks ago dismissing Runiga from the post of president accused him of corruption, misconduct and supporting Bosco Ntaganda, a wanted war crimes suspect.
Ngaruye, however, denied the allegations, claiming that he last saw Ntaganda years back when he was still serving in the FARDC.
Asked about his next plan, the rebel fighter said at the moment they haven’t decided, but they don’t intend to rejoin M23 or be re-integrated into the FARDC.
In a related development, following the Friday fighting, close to 1,150 civilian refugees also crossed over to Rwanda and camped less than 50 meters away from the border.
Rwanda’s permanent secretary in the Ministry of Refugee Affairs and Disaster Management, Antoine Ruvebana, addressed the refugees and informed them of their rights that they are free to stay or return home.
“Those who want to stay will be taken to a refugee camp and fed, while those who what to return back home, it is your right,” said Ruvebana. Shortly after, a big number of refugees crossed back into DR Congo.
A government statement quoted the Minister of Foreign Affairs Louise Mushikiwabo as saying: “…we are consulting several regional and international organisations to facilitate appropriate handling of this new group of refugees.”
The statement also added that instability in the DRC continues to directly affect Rwanda as demonstrated by this new wave of refugees.
“Rwanda recently signed on to the UN-led Peace Framework for the DRC and we remain committed to working with our neighbour states and other partners for an end to conflict in eastern DRC,” reads the statement
Over 25,000 Congolese entered Rwanda as a result of resurgence of conflict in eastern DRC last year. Close to 18,000 live in the Kigeme refugee camp in southern Rwanda and another 7,766 are housed at the Nkamira transit camp in Rubavu.
The crisis in the DRC escalated in April 2009 following mutiny by a group of soldiers of the Congolese army claiming the Congolese government had violated a 2009 peace agreement.
They formed the M23 rebel group, which is mainly made up of soldiers from a now-defunct National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP).
This is the heaviest fighting since April 2012 when the rebels mutinied from the Congolese army, after the peace agreement that saw CNDP disband and their fighters integrate in the national army.
M23 fighters accused President Kabila’s government of reneging on the terms of that deal, which was brokered by former presidents Olusegun Obasanjo (Nigeria) and Benjamin Mkapa (Tanzania).
The rebels fought against the Congolese army and captured the eastern DRC Capital of Goma but withdrew a few days later after the two parties agreed to a ceasefire.
This resulted into the peace negotiations which are currently ongoing in Kampala, Uganda, brokered by the International Conference for the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR).