Defector diplomacy

On Monday morning, the BBC World Service made official what some in the region – from army officers to diplomats – had been muttering about for several weeks: That Rwanda is providing support to the M23 mutiny. The BBC journalist had reportedly seen an internal United Nations report that summarized the debriefing of eleven Rwandan nationals who had allegedly joined the M23 rebellion only to desert on the battlefield. According to these debriefs, the Rwandan army had facilitated their recruitment, and potentially that of many others.

Within hours, the Rwandan government hit back, labeling the report as “categorically false and dangerous…rumours” in an official statement by their minister of foreign affairs. In private, Rwandan officials have been pushing counter-accusations, claiming the Congolese army has been collaborating with the FDLR.

However, in a sign of how far relations between Kinshasa and Kigali have thawed, both sides are now making an effort of toning down their rhetoric. Congolese Minister of Information Lambert Mende – not one known for understatement – demurred: “A priori we don’t have any elements that could confirm these accusations.” He went on to suggest that spoilers may be trying to poison relations with Rwanda on purpose. And this morning, Rwandan and Congolese delegations will be meeting once again in Gisenyi, and the mood is reportedly cordial, all things considered (during yesterdays’ meeting there was reportedly a brief display of Rwandan ID cards taken from the prisoners). Both sides are now blaming the United Nations for its profligacy, recklessness, and so on.

The purpose of the meeting is to sign an agreement to set up joint verification teams that would be able to investigate allegations on both sides of the border. The Congolese have even contemplated asking for joint patrols with the Rwandan army along the Runyoni border.

In the meantime, the front line has not moved much. Every other day, fighting breaks out, and the Congolese have brought in the 103rd regiment from Kalehe in support of their Runyoni offensive. Unfortunately for them, one of the ex-CNDP battalion commanders in this regiment, Lt Col Gakufe Japhet, defected with 18-50 soldiers (reports vary) on May 28, just shortly after he arrived.

In the meantime, the Congolese army has opened up several other smaller offensives in recent weeks, attacking FDLR and APCLS positions on the Mweso-Lukweti (Masisi) axis, and hitting Mai-Mai Tsheka positions around Mpofi (Walikale).