Voluntary repatriation of ex-M23 rebels starts

Thirteen former members of the M23 rebels took the lead in voluntarily returning back to their home in DR Congo shortly after meeting with visiting Congolese deputy defence minister, Rene Sibu Matubuka, yesterday.
Some of the ex-M23 fighters leave to board the minibus to return to DR Congo. (John Mbanda)
Some of the ex-M23 fighters leave to board the minibus to return to DR Congo. (John Mbanda)

Thirteen former members of the M23 rebels took the lead in voluntarily returning back to their home in DR Congo shortly after meeting with visiting Congolese deputy defence minister, René Sibu Matubuka, yesterday.

The group is part of the 200 rebels currently camped in Ngoma District. They decided to return after Matubuka assured them of their security back home.

The exercise was witnessed by officials from the office of the UN Special Envoy for the Great Lakes region, International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) and officials from the Government of Rwanda.

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Permanent Secretary of Ministry of Defence, Col Joseph Rutabana (L) and the Congolese vice Minister for Defence Rene Sibu Matubuka sign the joint communiqué yesterday.

The former rebels, through their head Jean–Marie Runiga, reiterated their readiness to return to their homeland, but most remain skeptical of their security upon return and are demanding more assurances from their government of safety before returning home.

“This is the second meeting toward efforts to have former M23 return home and we are succeeding. We hope more will be coming home soon,” said the Congolese minister.

Matubuka was speaking at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs after signing a joint communiqué affirming the voluntary repatriation of the 13 former rebels.

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Permanent Secretary of Ministry of Defence, Col Joseph Rutabana (L) and the Congolese vice Minister for Defence Rene Sibu Matubuka shake hands after signing yesterday.

On the Rwandan side, the communiqué was signed by Col Joseph Rutabana, the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Defence.

Shortly after the signing ceremony, the 13 former rebels departed for Goma in eastern DR Congo, aboard a minibus in the company UN officials.

“We facilitated DR Congo to meet with ex-M23 (rebels) and this resulted in the voluntary repatriation of the 13 men,” Col Rutabana said.

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DR Congo vice Minister for Defence Rene Sibu Matubuka chats with former M23's spokesperson Bishop Jean Marie Runiga at the camp in Ngoma District yesterday. (All photos by John Mbanda)

According to a reliable source, while Rwanda will continue to facilitate the voluntary repatriation of the remaining former rebels, it is keen on ending the saga and focus primarily on national developmental issues.

The weapons that the rebels fled with are currently in store and Rwanda is working on mechanisms to hand the arms over to a neutral party.

“We have already shared with the DR Congo government an inventory of the weapons that we recovered from the rebels. We would now wish to hand the weapons over to a third party – say to a UN agency – that will keep record of the weapons; but more importantly help trace their origin,” the source said.

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