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M23 confirms presence of its commanders in Uganda

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The Congolese rebel group March 23 (M23) has acknowledged that many of its commanders and representatives are currently in Uganda. This confirmation comes in response to a United Nations Group of Experts report that claims these M23 leaders reside and operate in Uganda despite being under UN sanctions.

Rebels’ Intentions in Uganda

M23 has firmly denied any intention of using their presence in Uganda to instigate conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In a statement released by Lawrence Kanyuka, the spokesperson for the M23 rebel commander, the group asserted that their teams stationed outside their operational zones in the DRC are there solely for peace purposes.

“We want to remind the United Nations Group of Experts that our teams (either delegation or representation) have always been deployed outside the area under our control for reasons of peace and not war,” Kanyuka stated.

The group indicated that they became aware of the UN report through an article published by the Daily Monitor newspaper. The report suggested that the controversy over the presence of M23 representatives in Uganda stemmed from concerns raised by the UN Group of Experts.

UN Sanctions and Allegations

UN sanctions prohibit M23 rebel leaders from traveling abroad. However, the UN experts allege that Uganda allows these leaders to transit through its territory and Entebbe International Airport. In one incident highlighted in the report, M23 leaders, including Kanyuka, allegedly met with journalist Andrew Mwenda in Kampala to discuss improving their diplomatic relations with Western nations.

The M23 rebels have defended their presence in Uganda and other East and Southern African cities, claiming their visits are for peace talks. “This is particularly the case with certain capitals of some countries in the East and Southern Africa regions, which have long served as venues for talks between our organisation and the Kinshasa regime to bring peace to our country,” stated the M23 report.

Historical Context and Diplomatic Engagements

The M23 report cites several instances of diplomatic engagement in Uganda, including negotiations between the Kinshasa regime and M23 from 2012 to 2013 in Kampala and meetings in 2014 and 2022. They also mentioned a failed peace meeting in Kampala in 2023, which was supposed to be chaired by an East African Community (EAC) facilitator but was unattended by the Kinshasa regime delegation.

Ugandan Government’s Response

The UN Group of Experts report also alleged that the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF) support M23 rebels, a claim denied by Brig Gen Felix Kulayigye, the Director of Defence Public Information in Uganda. Brig Gen Kulayigye emphasized that the UN experts have repeatedly made such allegations without providing evidence.

Yesterday, he reiterated his stance, stating, “I am not an immigration officer to know that. But as long as someone isn’t a threat to national security, the UPDF isn’t concerned. The people within the East African Community are allowed free movement within the community.”

Recent Rebel Advances

M23, along with its ally Alliance Fleuve Congo (AFC), has recently made significant territorial gains in Eastern DRC, including the capture of the strategic town of Kanyabayonga. This advance prompted President Felix Tshisekedi to allocate 20 percent of the country’s budget to the Ministry of Defence to combat the rebels.

M23 Commanders’ Confirmed Locations and Purpose

Location Purpose Statement by M23
Kampala, Uganda Peace talks “Deployed for peace, not war”
Other East African cities Diplomatic engagement “For negotiations with Kinshasa regime”

Timeline of Diplomatic Engagements

Year Event/Meeting Location
2012-2013 Negotiations between Kinshasa and M23 Kampala
2014 Meeting with Kinshasa delegation Kampala
April 2022 Dialogue with Kinshasa regime Entebbe
August 2023 Failed peace meeting Kampala

UN Allegations and Responses

Allegation Response by Uganda Evidence Provided
Uganda allowing M23 leaders to travel Denied by Brig Gen Kulayigye None
UPDF supporting M23 rebels Repeated denial None

The acknowledgment of M23 commanders in Uganda has sparked a heated debate, with the group insisting on their peaceful intentions while UN experts raise concerns about potential security threats.

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