Stalled Rebel Peace Process Threatens Congo Elections Buildup

Democratic Republic of Congo accused Rwanda and the M23 armed group of delaying a peace process that would allow voters in eastern Congo to participate in December elections.

(Bloomberg) — Democratic Republic of Congo accused Rwanda and the M23 armed group of delaying a peace process that would allow voters in eastern Congo to participate in December elections. 

Officials have been blocked for months from entering rebel territory to finalize the registration process, which officially ended in April. The disarming of the militia has stalled over M23’s refusal to completely withdraw their troops without first holding talks with Congo’s government, a demand Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi has refused.

“The US government, like other international partners, is pressuring us to hold these elections on time,” spokesman Patrick Muyaya said by phone. “But there are about 1.5 million of our compatriots in Masisi and Rutshuru who have not yet been enrolled because of the presence of the M23.”

Conflict has plagued resource-rich eastern Congo for decades, and animosity between its government and neighbor Rwanda has raised fears of wider fighting. The election could have a bearing on billions of dollars of mining developments in the world’s biggest producer of cobalt and other minerals used for technologies like electric-vehicle batteries.  

The more than two-year-old offensive by the rebel group, which says it’s protecting the rights of the Congolese Tutsi community, has led to the displacement of more than 1 million people, according to the United Nations.  

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The M23 are backed by neighboring Rwanda according to Congo’s government and UN experts, though Rwanda denies it. Rwanda, where the 1994 genocide killed an estimated 850,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus, supported a previous M23 rebellion that Congo’s army and UN peacekeepers defeated in 2013.

“Rwanda is committed to the ongoing regional peace mechanism — our priority is security along our Western border as well as stability and development for our entire region,” spokeswoman Yolande Makolo said in an emailed response to questions.

US Sanctions

Rwandan Hutu rebel groups with links to the perpetrators of the genocide are still active in eastern Congo and have received support from some members of Congo’s army to fight the M23, according to UN experts and Rwanda’s government. 

The US last week sanctioned several members of one Hutu rebel group and a Congolese colonel who worked with them. Washington also sanctioned a top commander in Rwanda’s army for its involvement in killings in Congo. 

Congo wants more US sanctions of Rwandan officials, Muyaya said, in part because military action hasn’t worked. A force from the East African Community that arrived last year is “ineffective” and too friendly with the rebels, he said. 

Read More: Coltan-Rich Congo Provinces Put Under Martial Law to Stem Tumult

The government is currently in talks with the Southern African Development Community about another peacekeeping unit that could arrive this year. 

The EAC and SADC forces are meant to secure territory given up by the M23 and begin the process with UN peacekeepers and Congo’s army to contain, disarm and demobilize the fighters, according to a series of agreements between Rwanda, Congo and regional leaders.  

But the group refuses to cooperate. 

“The M23 asked the DRC government to come to the table to discuss, and then through the discussions we’re going to deal with the root causes of conflict because we are tired of the political issue becoming a military problem,” M23 spokesman Lawrence Kanyuka said by phone. “M23 doesn’t have to withdraw anymore.” 

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