People & Power

SEVEN QUESTIONS: ‘Kabila knows we are meeting M23 rebels’

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Dr Kiyonga maintains the UN report is incompetent.

Dr Kiyonga maintains the UN report is incompetent. PHOTO BY JOSEPH KIGGUNDU 

By Crispus Kiyonga

Posted  Sunday, November 11  2012 at  02:00

In Summary

Following a leaked UN report accusing Uganda and Rwanda of supporting the M23 rebels, Uganda has embarked on a serious diplomatic campaign to explain its position. Risdel Kasasira talked to the Defence Minister, Dr Crispus Kiyonga, about the allegations and whether Uganda has the moral authority to chair the International Conference for Great Lakes Region, a body making efforts to end the fighting in eastern DRC.

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1. Could you give us details on the recent meeting in Goma that you had with Congolese, Rwandan and other ministers of defence from the great lakes region?
This was an International Conference for Great Lakes Region, mainly to receive the report of the structure we had set up. It’s called a military assessment team. These are military experts from the 11 member countries of ICGLR. We received this report and we agree with it. We took decisions and made recommendations to the heads of state. We are now going to report to the chairman of ICGLR who is President Museveni, since the meeting of the heads of state may not take place soon.

2. Did you discuss the allegations that Uganda and Rwanda support M23 rebels? What did the Congolese minister say?
We did not specifically discuss the report but since questions were being raised about Uganda and being the chair of ICGLR, I had to first ask whether it was okay for Uganda to chair this particular meeting. Since Uganda is the chair, it means that at every level in the ICGLR, Uganda chairs every meetings. But because of these accusations by the UN and the public image that has been created, a moral question was asked whether Uganda should go ahead to chair the meeting. I raised this issue with my colleagues before we went for the session.

They said they had confidence in the leadership of Uganda at all levels and urged me, as the chairman of defence ministers, to continue chairing the meeting. The report was not substantively debated because it was not on our agenda. For us, we have continued with the road map made by the summit. But because this moral question arose, I ensured that it was cleared before we started the meeting. But everybody expressed confidence in our leadership and we decided not to be diverted by these accusations.

3. What are some of the recommendations made in the report to be presented to President Museveni?
We recommended that a neutral international force should be deployed in the eastern DRC to help in that situation. That we should move faster to mobilise the troops and other resources required and that we should seek the UN and AU mandate to deploy the force.

4. Isn’t Uganda in a dilemma over this report and do you have hopes that this road map will continue as planned?
Well, unless something new happens, at the government level, we have found it our duty to explain to other partners. Firstly, we have sent a strong delegation led by Minister Ruhakana Rugunda to the Secretary General of the UN. The delegation will protest the wrong procedure which was used in handling this report, specifically, we were never appropriately contacted by that group of experts. When I say appropriately, I mean, we would have expected the experts to take time and reach out to the appropriate government officials to verify the information they had received.

For example, they never reached out to the Chief of Military Intelligence. They never reached the Chief of Defence Forces. They never reached the minister of defence, the seriousness of the accusations notwithstanding. So, we protest that wrong procedure. Secondly, why leak the report? They are like children. UN is a big body. Why would it go by leaking? UN should also explain clearly and conclusively every piece of accusation that they have made in that report. Another delegation has gone to the UK and European Union. The third delegation is within the region covering the member states of ICGLR. We are explaining ourselves because we know this report is false and there is misreading of actions being undertaken by Uganda.

When those M23 people were threatening to attack Goma, the Secretary General of ICGLR contacted President Museveni, sometime in July, and appealed to him if he could find ways and means to reach out to the M23 people and prevail on them to stop fighting. So, we reached out to them and we have been having quiet contact with them for two reasons. The first reason was to insist that they stop fighting and secondly, to try and understand why they are fighting. These former rebels had agreed with the government of DRC to stop fighting, but why are they fighting all of sudden and causing problems?

Whatever information we get from the M23 people, we share with the summit members. I think there were some leakages that these contacts were ongoing and because they are quiet contacts, people thought that Uganda is training them [M23] politically and giving them political cover. That’s not our intention. What we are doing is known to the UN and President Kabila’s government. That’s why I call this misreading.

5. Why were you meeting these rebels quietly? Wouldn’t it have been better to meet them in the open?
No, no. These people are rebels. You need to get their confidence. So, the agreement was that our contact with them should be discreet. All things are not done in public. We can’t always be acting in the open. That’s not how governments are run. Everywhere, even in organizations, there are things which you do quietly and there are others done in the open. In this case, the quiet contact was appropriate. You can’t conduct matters of the rebels in the press. But it was sufficient that all key parties knew what was going on. This was not our initiative, we were contacted and requested to make these contacts discreet.

6. Are you in touch with President Kabila specifically to explain your position, and if yes, what is he saying?
His Special Envoy was here. He, and the Governor of Goma, met the President. I was not in that meeting but obviously, that meeting must have discussed this situation. I haven’t talked to Kabila myself. But I expect Kabila to be positive and I think he has faith and confidence in President Museveni, to assist in that difficult situation in eastern DRC. That I know and it’s a fact.

7. Isn’t it a sign of lack of trust when President Kabila says Uganda should not stop at rubbishing the report but give a satisfactory explanation?
I don’t know that. I only read it in the press. But I know, for certain, that President Kabila has faith in Uganda since these efforts by the ICGLR to end fighting began.