M23 advancing, consolidating, others negotiating, moving. And the report is out.

Roughly 24 hours after M23 has taken the city of Goma, many movements have been observed on the ground and the proliferation of rumours, most notably via twitter has reached mushrooming dynamics. Time to wrap up and present the major bullet points:

What has been happening around Goma?

M23 has been taking command all over the city of Goma, tolerating MONUSCO presence at the airport and in their bases. After parading through the streets yesterday, M23 chiefs have gathered in the city’s stadium to include remaining FARDC and PNC elements into their ranks. The troop strength of M23 has now, if previous assumption were right, increased to roughly 4000-5000 combatants. Today’s influx of troops should, however be considered carefully, since they might not be that loyal, equipped, and trained compared to “core” M23 staff.

The humanitarian “fallout” of this invasion has remained low in terms of fatalities but displacement and lacks in humanitarian care due to the withdrawal or limited operational capacity on the humanitarian community’s side may severe the yet critical situation. IDP camps in Kanyarucinya and Mugunga are certainly among the first ones to experience that. Urban fighting at least remained low, some reports exist about arbitrary killings by M23 and looting by fleeing FARDC soldiers.

Also today, M23 contingents have advanced on the road to Sake, taking control over the strategic town west of Goma without greater resistance by FARDC there. Details from the confrontations are not yet available, but there must have been a certain degree of fighting. From Sake the road is “open” both towards Minova, Kalehe and Mushaki, Masisi. Most recent information indicates that M23 has clashed with Mayi Mayi Nyatura near Sake and moves upwards to Kirolirwe which would represent rather friendly territory for them (area of Congolese Tutsi and operational zone of Col. Badege’s troops) compared to the road via Masisi or going southwards into Raia Mutomboki areas. Further movements are not yet predictable at this time, although M23 spokespeople have already threatened to invade first Bukavu and then “liberate the Congo”.

What happens in the wider area?

While DRC still rejects to negotiate directly with M23 and the latter maintain this very desire, the foreign ministers of ICGLR member states have gathered in Kampala for their n-th summit. At the same time, talks have been held between Museveni, Kagame, and Kabila wherefrom a joint communiqué is emanating. Its readings demand an immediate ceasefire from M23 and the reestablishment of Congolese sovereignty, while the DRC also accepts its responsibility to maintain order. No further enlightenments as to Rwandan and Ugandan role in the whole story.

At the international level, UN Security Council has adopted a rather teethless resolution yesterday. It mainly says the international community should react and asks M23 to put down arms. Meanwhile, the UN Group of Experts final report, including annexes has been published. This could bring along a new resolution, although given that Rwanda has already taken its seat as non-permanent member (to be introduced before assume officially from January 2013 on) may influence the process, as other factors might do too.

What happens next?

Now the part for speculation. This blog has been wrong in assuming the invasion of Goma was not imminent. A false prediction, although I wish to maintain the opinion that recent event during the last week had finally prompted the rapid changes of the situation. Still, again a few predictions. As it seems now, M23 will attempts to close the ranks (and roads) by controlling the Sake-Kirolirwe-Kitchanga axis, opening up a second supply route between Rutshuru and Masisi. Less likely, but possible, they will try to proceed to Masisi and Bukavu.

For Masisi, main opponent will include some (not necessarily all) Nyatura, maybe also Raia Mutomboki. APCLS and FDLR in Masisi will probably not accept M23 either, while the split FDC-Luanda/Guides are an unclear case. No matter which of those opposes M23’s advance, they will, however, not form a common front given their animosities. From the backyard, M23 may experience some help from Sheka’s NDC – a notoriously opportunistic group with good commercial relations to M23 elements. FARDC does not seem to be a bigger obstacle in that area.

For Bukavu, the Raia Mutomboki, especially those around Bunyakiri (although they apparently also attacked to government delegation today) will be a fierce enemy to M23. Despite the possibility of co-opting some factions of Raia Mutomboki, M23 will see itself confronted with most of these groups as to their anti-Rwandophone ideology. While M23 is structured, equipped, and well trained, Raia Mutomboki may answer with deliberate brutality if clashes are to happen. The consequences of such battles would certainly aggravate the humanitarian disaster in the area. Further in South Kivu, the reintegration of Col. Kahasha and other militia commanders, partly returning from M23 or allied groups, might (in the worst case for FARDC) be an infiltration measure allowing M23 to destroy the FARDC from within on their way to Bukavu. Maybe a little more likely – even if likelihood is a difficult concept in the Kivus these days – FARDC is regrouping all its strength around Bukavu at this moment and will effectively oppose M23 in South Kivu, accompanied by whichever anti-Rwandophone militia there. This in turn, could result in tough fighting which would be the worst case in humanitarian terms. The idea of FARDC regaining some strength in South Kivu gains momentum given the fact that their performance yesterday in Goma has been that weak and idle, that even for the FARDC and its catastrophic reputation is was surprising.

Finally, for the regional and international environment, major movements by M23 or other actors on the battlefields are likely to precede any substantial action of the former. The publication of the Group of Experts report in these seconds could still make things move in New York, Kampala, or elsewhere.

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