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Briefing on the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Tomorrow (31 May), the Security Council will hold a briefing on the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) at the request of the three African members (Gabon, Ghana and Kenya). Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for the Great Lakes region Huang Xia is the anticipated briefer. The DRC Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Christophe Lutundula Apala is also expected to participate in the meeting.

It seems that tomorrow’s meeting was prompted by the deteriorating security situation in eastern DRC with intensified attacks by the M23 Movement, an armed group which was active in North Kivu province in 2012 and 2013 (Rwanda was accused of supporting the movement at the time) and which has resumed its military activities in the region in recent months. The Secretary-General’s latest reports on the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in DRC (MONUSCO) and on the implementation of the Peace, Security and Cooperation framework (PSC Framework) for DRC and the Region, released on 21 March and 31 March respectively, describe the attacks by M23 combatants against Congolese armed forces (FARDC) in North Kivu province in December 2021 and January.

On 22 May, fighting was reported in Shangi, North Kivu province, where the M23 attacked both FARDC and MONUSCO troops. The FARDC and MONUSCO reacted by launching a joint operation against the armed group which enabled the FARDC to regain control of its positions. The recent fighting has reportedly displaced more than 72,000 people. In a 24 May press statement, Security Council members strongly condemned the attack by M23 and recognised the ongoing efforts by the FARDC, with the support of MONUSCO, to address the threat posed by M23 and other armed groups operating in eastern DRC.

The Congolese government has once again accused Rwanda of supporting the M23. Lutundula reportedly expressed this view at the AU extraordinary summit held in Malabo from 25-28 May, and he is likely to reiterate it at tomorrow’s meeting. On 27 May, the Congolese government announced its decision to immediately suspend RwandAir flights to DRC and summoned the Rwandan Ambassador in Kinshasa to register its disapproval of his country’s alleged support for the M23. However, Rwandan Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta responded to the accusations by emphasising that the issue is an internal problem in the DRC. In a 23 May statement, the Rwandan Defense Forces (RDF) complained about rocket shelling by the FARDC on Rwandan territory and requested an investigation by the regional Expanded Joint Verification Mechanism (EJVM) of the International Conference for the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR). In another statement, issued on 28 May, the RDF accused the Congolese government of working with the Forces Democratiques de Liberation du Rwanda (FDLR), an ethnic Hutu armed group active in eastern DRC. The statement mentions the kidnapping of two Rwandese soldiers who were on patrol along the border with DRC, and called on the Congolese authorities to secure the release of the two soldiers who, the RDF says, are being held by the FDLR. Video footage of two men in Rwandan military uniform, allegedly captured by the FARDC, was circulating in Congolese social media as evidence of Rwandan involvement in the latest fighting between the FARDC and the M23.

There seems to be growing concern that the resurgence of the M23 risks undermining the recent rapprochement among countries in the region, in addition to further complicating the already difficult security situation in eastern DRC with the increasing military activities of other armed groups such as the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), the Coopérative pour le développement du Congo (CODECO) and FDLR. This was the spirit of the joint communique issued on 5 April by the guarantor institutions of the PSC Framework, namely the UN, the African Union, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and ICGLR, which underscored the need for dialogue among countries of the region to strengthen trust and encouraged the utilisation of existing bilateral and regional mechanisms and frameworks, including the EJVM, to enhance information exchange, coordination and cross-border collaboration. The current AU Chairperson and President of the Republic of Senegal, Macky Sall, also expressed concern over the recent tension between DRC and Rwanda and encouraged the two countries to engage in dialogue to resolve their dispute with the support of regional mechanisms and the African Union.

The political consultation underway in Nairobi between the Congolese government and armed groups operating in eastern DRC is likely to be another key focus of tomorrow’s meeting. This consultation is taking place based on the outcome of the regional mini-summit hosted by Kenyan President and current Chair of the East African Community (EAC) Uhuru Kenyatta on 21 April. The regional leaders agreed to make progress in addressing the peace and security challenge in eastern DRC in two tracks: a political track to facilitate consultations between the DRC and armed groups; and a military track, through the establishment of a regional force, to fight armed groups that refuse to take part in a political dialogue. In light of the renewed fighting with M23, however, the Congolese government accused Rwanda of undermining this regional effort and demanded that the M23 be excluded from the Nairobi process. On the other hand, Rwanda accused DRC of lacking the political will to implement the decisions of the Nairobi mini-summit and selectively engaging with armed groups.

Council members have been supportive of an integrated regional approach in addressing the threats posed by armed groups in eastern DRC. In a 28 April press statement, they took note of the regional leaders’ commitment to implement this two-track approach. At tomorrow’s meeting, Council members may be interested to know more about the prospect of the ongoing consultations between the government and armed groups in Nairobi under the auspices of the EAC.

Xia is likely to provide an update on the meeting in Nairobi. In a 25 May statement, Xia called upon countries of the region to maintain dialogue to end the threat posed by armed groups in eastern DRC and expressed his readiness to support their concerted approach. In this regard, the statement recognised mechanisms such as the Contact and Coordination Group (CCG), which is composed of military and civilian intelligence services of Great Lakes countries, in facilitating the implementation of non-military measures such as disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration programmes.

At tomorrow’s meeting, Council members are expected to reiterate their strong condemnation of all armed groups operating in eastern DRC, including the M23, and call on them to end their violence, unconditionally disarm, and participate in the ongoing political process. They are likely to express strong support for MONUSCO’s stabilisation efforts, in coordination with the FARDC, in order to deal with the threats posed by armed groups in accordance with the mission’s mandated responsibilities and in full compliance with international humanitarian law and human rights law. Furthermore, Council members are also likely to call on countries of the region to maintain their commitment to the PSC framework and utilise bilateral and regional mechanisms to address issues and concerns. They may reaffirm their support for regional initiatives through the Nairobi process and encourage Xia to work with the countries concerned to address the security challenge in eastern DRC and advance peace, security and development.

Several members may express concern about the deteriorating humanitarian situation and the challenges of protecting civilians displaced by the ongoing fighting in the eastern DRC. Others may raise concerns about the illegal exploitation of natural resources, which continues to fuel the conflict in the region. Council members may also underscore the need to disarm and demobilise armed groups and, in this regard, support the full and effective implementation of the Congolese government’s Demobilisation, Disarmament, Community Recovery and Stabilisation Program (P-DDRCS) for former combatants. They may also reiterate their support for the regional efforts to find non-military solutions to the security challenges in eastern DRC, including through the work of the CCG. France, the penholder on DRC, may propose a draft press statement with the African members of the Council.

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