An emergency regional Heads of State and Government summit on the latest flare up of hostilities in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is scheduled on Thursday in the Ugandan capital Kampala.
The summit was called by the Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni in his capacity as the Chairman of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), a grouping of 12 countries.
Both the ICGLR Secretariat in Bujumbura and Uganda’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs confirmed the extraordinary meeting, which will be preceded by the joint meeting of Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Defence due tomorrow.
The extraordinary summit, the seventh such gathering of IGCLR leaders in a space of just over a year, is expected to provide a “lasting solution” to the ongoing conflict, which last month threatened to spill over to Rwanda, after 36 mortar bombs landed into the border district of Rubavu.
In one of the bombs, which Kigali blamed on the Congolese army (FARDC) and FDLR, a militia largely responsible for the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, killed a woman and seriously injured her two-month baby when it landed in Mugangari market in Rubavu town last Thursday.
Rwanda responded by warning that the continued violation of its territorial integrity by the Congolese forces and the genocidal militia, which is said to be co-located with FARDC in several parts of eastern DRC, was no longer tolerable.
“The persistent shelling of Rwandan territory is unacceptable, as it would be to any sovereign nation. Rwandan civilians are being targeted by DRC forces. We have remained restrained for as long as we can but this provocation can no longer be tolerated,” Foreign Affairs minister Louise Mushikiwabo said in a statement.
The Rwanda Defence Forces then moved heavy arsenal and amassed troops in Rubavu, sparking fears for a possible all-out war between Rwanda and DRC.
Congo’s M23 rebels have over the last one week engaged in a fierce battle against the FARDC and the UN peacekeepers in the Congo, particularly a newly deployed offensive brigade, known as the Force Intervention Brigade (FIB).
In Kampala, Foreign affairs minister Sam Kutesa said in a statement on Saturday that the upcoming summit was “very urgent” given the “deteriorating situation” in eastern DRC in recent days.
“This coming extra-ordinary summit should be seen as an effort by the Chair to bring all parties to the conflict and all regional leaders to help find a lasting solution to the conflict, aimed at creating stability in eastern DRC and the region as whole,” Minister Kutesa said in the statement.
The summit is also expected to be attended by the UN Special Representative to the Great Lakes Region, former Ireland president, Mary Robinson, who last week urged calm and reiterated the need for a political settlement of the crisis.
Robinson was yesterday in Kinshasa as part of a regional tour aimed at defusing tension.
Barrel of the gun
According to Aloys Mahwa, the Executive Director of the Interdisciplinary Genocide Studies Centre, based in Kigali, the upcoming ICGLR summit is a litmus test for regional leaders and the western players with regard to their commitment to resolve the Congo issue once and for all.
He said the M23 grievances can only be resolved politically and not through the barrel of the gun.
“The people of this region are tired of wars. An escalation in the conflict in eastern DRC has great potential to roll back the impressive economic gains and stability the peoples of this region have enjoyed in the recent years,” he told The New Times.
Talks between the Kinshasa government and M23 rebels which had been ongoing in Kampala have stalled for months, with the rebels accusing the government of acting contrary to its pledge during an ICGLR Heads of State summit that it would address the rebels’ grievances once the latter withdrew from Goma last November.
Previous rebel gains on the battlefield have fuelled accusations that they have the support of Rwanda, allegations Kigali has strenuously denied.
Instead, the Rwandan government has accused Congo of working closely with and in some cases embedding the FDLR fighters in FARDC units deployed close to the Rwandan border.
M23 was created by mutinous Congolese soldiers, who broke ranks with the regular army in April 2012 accusing the government of President Joseph Kabila of breaching the terms of a March 2009 peace accord that had ended a previous rebellion.
US diplomat visits
In a related development, the US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, yesterday concluded a two-day visit to Rwanda during which she discussed with Rwandan officials to deteriorating security situation in eastern DRC, according to a statement from the US embassy in Kigali.
Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield reiterated that the Peace, Security, and Cooperation Framework (for DRC and the region) and provides the best chance in decades to bring stability to the Great Lakes region through a comprehensive political and development process supported by the UN and the World Bank, the statement said in part.
Thomas-Greenfield urged the Framework signatories to “engage directly in a political process to diplomatically de-escalate the situation and address the underlying causes of conflict in the region and their legitimate security concerns”.
Rwanda is a signatory to the peace framework signed in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia by 11 regional countries, with the UN, African Union, ICGLR and SADC signing as guarantors.
The US diplomat was expected to proceed to Kinshasa.
Thomas-Greenfield’s visit came before a visit scheduled for later this week by the United States’ newly-named Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region of Africa and the Democratic Republic of the Congo Russell Feingold, the statement said.
Representatives of the European Union and African Union are visiting the region over the Congo crisis.