In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, links between Uganda and the March 23 rebel movement raise questions

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Congolese flee to Uganda after clashes between the Congolese army and M23 rebels, in Bunagana, April 2, 2022.

Nestor* has not seen any Ugandan soldiers again, except for a few customs officers, since the Bunagana attack. On the night of June 12-13, rebels from the March 23rd Movement (M23), an armed group from a former Tutsi-dominated rebellion, attacked the Congolese side of this city on both sides of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda. . “As soon as I heard the first explosions, I ran at dawn to customs to get to safety”The Congolese student explains that he was contacted by phone. About 50 UPDF soldiers had walked past him before Crossing the border with the rebelsHe says.

Also a refugee in customs – neutral area Between the two countries – During the attack Celestine* saw men in uniform wearing boots stamped with “UPDF”. “They exchanged with the M23 through walkie-talkies.”, refers to this inhabitant of Bunagana. For several hours the electricity was ” to cut “ The Ugandan side, he reported two witnesses he met the scientist. ‘to facilitate the attack’Someone analyzes it.

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If the renewed March 23 movement and intensification of fighting in recent weeks initially reignited tensions between the DRC and Rwanda, which Kinshasa has publicly accused of backing the rebels, the capture of Bunagana also raises questions about the role Uganda played in the conflict.

The March 23rd Movement has been coveting this strategic trading fork for several weeks. On March 28 and 29, the first attack on Bunagana was actually launched, which was repelled by the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC). “Uganda PDF Support”, according to a report by the United Nations Panel of Experts published on 14 June. But “During the second attack, they cooperated with the March 23 movement; we did not understand this change in strategy”Develops Cédric*, civil society representative in Bunagana, which brings together civic associations.

joint military operation

Ugandan army spokesman Felix Kulaygi quickly denied the UPDF involvement. “If Uganda wanted to take Bunagana, we had an entire battalion stationed on the border that could have done it.”He said on June 16 on NBS Uganda.

This denial did not convince Kinshasa. On June 21, Christophe Mbusu, President of the Congolese National Assembly, denounced the occupation “illegal” Bunagana with “Uganda complicity” During a symposium between the heads of South African associations. And the second person in the country had already announced in a plenary session, on June 14, the suspension of the ratification process of the agreements concluded with Uganda, without specifying the concerned parties.

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The two countries have been getting closer for several months now. On May 31, 2021, the Congolese President, Felix Tshisekedi, and his Ugandan counterpart, Yoweri Museveni, signed a partnership to renovate 223 kilometers of trade routes in eastern DRC, in particular the Bunagana-Goma hub, one of the largest cities in the country. The following November 30, the FARDC and UPDF launched “The Brave”, a joint military operation (still underway) to fight the Allied Democratic Forces, a Ugandan-origin armed group affiliated with the Islamic State (ISIS). ), which doubles the starting point in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Doubts about Uganda go back a few weeks. It all started with the activism on Twitter of the Ugandan president’s son, Muhuzi Kaynerugaba, who is influential because he is the commander-in-chief of the army. He showed his support for Rwandan President Paul Kagame, Explains to an elected member of parliament in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. This will not be the first time that our neighbors have sought to expand their influence in the Congo. »

No less than 400 fighters

In recent months, President Museveni’s son has increased his trips to Kigali. The border between the two countries has been closed since February 2019, and reopened in January 2022. This rapprochement between Uganda and Rwanda would partly explain why the authorities in Kampala left them. The March 23 Movement gets its supplies in Uganda and crosses the border without harassment” , analyzes Reagan Mivery, of the Ebuteli Congolese Institute. Bring the Ugandan head of state “Clear diplomatic support for the March 23 movement”The researcher follows up on the advice of the Congolese delegation that visited Kampala in mid-July for dialogue with the rebels. What Kinshasa continues to reject.

The neighboring countries of the Democratic Republic of the Congo have already been involved in several conflicts in the east of the country. During the previous March 23rd Movement rebellion, in 2012-2013, several countries and international institutions denounced support for Kigali and Kampala. Before its defeat in 2013, the armed group occupied several towns, including Punanaga, thanks to “Support from the Ugandan Armed Forces Commanders”According to a report by the United Nations Panel of Experts published in November 2012. At that time, the political branch was operating from Kampala. Its director, Bertrand Bissimoa, lived there until January 2022.

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Le chef de la branche armée, Sultani Makenga, s’est égallement installé dans la capitale ougandaise pendant plusieurs années après la signature d’un accord de paix en 2013. Puis, malgré les sanctions onusiennes qui le visent depuis une dizaines d’ann general “ Returned to Congolese factories in 2017 with “About 200 men”According to the Congolese government spokesman at the time, Lambert Mende.

All had left the Ugandan camp of Bihanga, where they were being held, to set up a base on Mount Sabinyo, in the Congolese Virunga Park. Today it is difficult to estimate how many fighters are in the ranks of the March 23 movement, but there were at least 400 fighters at the end of March and their recruitment continues, according to the United Nations.

*Names have been changed.

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