THE M23 ADVANCE THROUGHOUT THE CONGO AS INNOCENTS RUN FOR THEIR LIVES
Déjà vu. For decades, the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo has been a battlefield, with particular carnage taking place in the North Kivu Province. In late 2008, rebel general Laurent Nkunda’s National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP) effectively rattled Goma’s gates – the largest city in the East, and a major economic hub that shares its border with Rwanda. In a last minute deal, General Nkunda was turned in by his own staff and arrested in Rwanda, effectively ending the war.
Now a steady escalation of violence has become the norm, destabilising the region and resulting in the deaths of millions and leaving millions more without shelter, food and family.
In late April 2012, defections from the the Congolese Army (FARDC) to the forces of ICC-indicted General Bosco “The Terminator” Ntaganda (formerly a colonel in Laurent Nkunda’s CNDP) began in North Kivu, culminating in a real mutiny: Hundreds of military and police – most of ethnic Tutsi origin –joined Bosco in protest over Kinshasa’s failure to live up to promises made in 2009, when CNDP rebels “integrated” into the FARDC.
They massed in Masisi, West of Goma, but didn’t stay for long. Loyal FARDC forces closed in and chased them off. They regrouped and established a base at Runyonyi, close to the Rwandan border in Rutshuru Territory. The movement was officially christened M23, and the group claimed the agreements of March 23rd, 2009 between the CNDP and Kinshasa had been broken, and therefore were null and void.
From the hills of Runyonyi the M23 began their rebellion in earnest, launching attacks against the FARDC until they took Bunagana near the Ugandan border. Things got worse for Kinshasa, as the government wasn’t prepared or was unwilling to restart negotiations with the CNDP.
In July 2012, Rutshuru and Kiwanja towns fell to the rebels, and they set up an administration running parallel but opposed to Kinshasa’s official government. After repeated calls by regional and international organizations for negotiations and peace talks, the M23 announced an offensive with the aim of taking Goma. Over the next three months tensions continued to rise as the rebels planned their attack.