Precarious stalemate? M23 rumours, UN brigade tippy-toe, and yet another leak

Despite rumours unfolding on an hours-basis, M23 is unlikely to re-conquer Goma within the coming days. After a longer restructuration (and probably re-recruitment) period pursuant to February’s internecine showdown, leading to Ntaganda’s defeat and subsequent surrender in Kigali, M23 seems still weakened, or overstretched at least.

Recent regular incursions by FDLR and Nyatura militia into supposedly M23-held territory demonstrate that rather obviously. Unclear though, which parts of Nyatura (interestingly, some called “watoto” in Rutshuru, thanks to XY for that information) or FDLR it is. For the former, no “classic” presence was known close to M23 areas before. Two possibilities arise: Either ex-PARECO of Rutshuru (Nyatura in general stems from PARECO) may have taken up the name or quasi-integrated parts of Masisi-based Nyatura have been sent northwards to fight M23. Two possibilities as well for the FDLR attacks: Either the splinter faction under Col. Soki (having their home base close by) or the North Kivu command of FOCA (the main FDLR force) under command of ICC-indictee Gen. Mudacumura, crossing Virunga park via Southern Lubero/Northern Masisi territory are responsible. On that note, a similar question arose during the most recent FDLR incursions into Rwandan territory. Then, the latter option turned out to be the right one.

Still, the limited possibility of major events happening soon does not hinder that both M23 and FARDC try to engage in shows of force and activity by deploying and re-deploying troops. Regarding M23, analysts and observers have continuously spoken of the ‘politics of the fait accompli’ stressing M23’s window of opportunity to undertake significant action prior to the MONUSCO intervention brigade’s (FIB) final and full deployment. So far, there are few signs for that to happen. Another top rumour throughout the last few weeks is the alleged return of Laurent Nkunda into M23’s ranks. Certainly, this would boost morale in currently disillusioned ranks of the rebel group – but information so far comes from little trustworthy sources. If at all, Nkunda’s return would probably carry considerable political clout and charisma toward the M23, while in military terms little would change given the fact that M23’s current military leadership with Makenga and ‘India Queen’ Kaina have been fighting for years as main commanders for the CNDP.

On “the other side”, as one could say despite neutrality-purporting UN lingo, the FIB is still not operational, besides doing some patrols in and around Goma – which is exactly what they should not do. While Resolution 2098 does not prohibit such activity it clearly states the intervention brigade’s tasks as other than that. Also, this kind of patrols increases a danger of assimilation between the brigade and the remainder of the UN blue helmets as well as UN civilian and humanitarian personnel. Various UN officials have been unofficially pointing out their increased worries about the near future in that regard. Further, the brigade is likely to suffer the same operational challenges than mentioned in earlier pieces on this website. Especially in terms of aviation support, the current CONOPS planning shows a virtual inability to deal with more than one major militia at the same time, even with general MONUSCO support. The possible consequences on the political and medial level are easy to imagine. In that regard, the UN’s DPKO, paymaster member states, and the troop contributing countries should quickly envisage further infrastructure. With German Martin Kobler appointed SRSG and successor of Roger Meece, the new triumvirate of MONUSCO is completed. Much will depend on whether he will find a smooth modus operandi with his Brazilian and Tanzanian generals responsible for the force and the brigade respectively.

In the midst of all rumours and preparations on the various sides – a little surprising leak of the group of experts’ midterm report. This time performed by Inner City Press, and despite some whispers behind the scenes, without contributions to a specific member of the UN Security Council so far. The report as such, does not tell that much. No more Uganda support to M23, diminished Rwanda support to M23, FARDC–FDLR collaboration, shifting alliances in various corners of the Kivus, and other news similar to the years before. Even some funny information, such as the M23 theft of ten bottles of mango juice (besides dozens of vehicles and computer and arms stockpiles) from Goma last November, or the UFRC’s (Gustave Bagayamukwe’s armed movement) plan to spoil Kinois population with a couple of hours of classical music after having ousted Joseph Kabila (including the preliminary budgeting of this activity).

In summary, many contexts remain volatile, and the intermingling of seemingly separated security complexes in the Kivus may be stronger than usually thought. The Grand Nord situation with Mayi Mayi UDRC (Hilaire Kombi’s group) and the emergence of new alliances within the broader Raia Mutomboki movement in South Kivu are indicative in that regard. Much work for the intervention brigade and countless opportunities to militarily get on the wrong track, while diplomatic efforts continue to be stalled – the Kampala talks are symptomatic in this regard – despite a recent Secretary General’s report outlining various ‘remarkable efforts’. À suivre…

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