Thought and Ideas
Runiga is still our leader - M23 negotiator
Posted Sunday, March 10 2013 at 02:00
The Congolese rebel group, M23, has split into groups and there are fears that the talks in Kampala may fail because it’s not clear which group represents the interests of M23. Risdel Kasasira talked to Francois Rucogoza who has been leading the negotiating team about the fate of the talks. Mr Rucogoza is allied to Jean-Marie Runiga and four other members of the team have defected and abandoned the talks to join Sultan Makenga in Bunagana.
1. Why is M23 splitting and fighting each other?
We, unfortunately, have some problems in M23. But we think it is the infiltration by the government in Kinshasa that is causing these problems. When we were here talking, the government tried to split us but they failed. They finally used the Chief of Staff, Mr Makenga, to split the group. The situation is that Makenga didn’t largely achieve his objectives because the High Command had five leaders. These were the chairman, Bishop Runiga, chief of staff Makenga, deputy chief of staff, Gen. Bodwe Ngaruye, I as the executive secretary and the chief of police, Mr Ernest Sabagenzi.
Out of five, it’s only Makenga who has left; the rest are with the chairman. He tried to split the army. But we have nine battalions and he was able to take one battalion and a half. We now have seven battalions. We have information that Makenga is planning to make parallel structures. We also have information that he is working on behalf of the Congolese government. When Makenga began defecting, he went to Kyanzu hill where our troops tried to surround him. But we told our chairman that we cannot afford to fight Makenga and see our soldiers killing each other because we knew the origin of the problem.
We achieved that and our troops didn’t fight each other. When our troops moved to surround Makenga, the government forces went in and occupied our bases in Kiwanja, Rutshuru and Rubare. But they later withdrew and the territory was given to Makenga. We refused to fight Makenga because we knew it was trap by the Congolese government. Kabila’s government wanted us to fight each other. Makenga troops are now in Kiwanja and the government troops are 2km away. They work together. Yesterday, I explained to the facilitator and he gave us advice on what to do.
2. What is going to happen to the talks and don’t you think this has left you weak and soon the government forces will come and overrun your positions?
The facilitator has assured us that we will continue talking in consideration of the Addis Ababa agreement. For us, the agreement of Addis is good because it took care of our concerns. It’s somehow a compromise on both sides if implemented. Overrunning our positions by the Congolese government? I don’t think so. If Makenga had achieved his objective by taking all the forces, I would say, yes, we are in a weak position. But he has one battalion and a half out of nine.
3. What about reports that you have been sacked as the leader of the negotiating team and that Runiga, the man you are calling your president, was also sacked by Gen. Makenga?
That’s a joke from Makenga. If I had been sacked, I wouldn’t be talking to the facilitator of the talks. The facilitator knows that Runiga is still the Chairman of M23 and I’m still the chairman of the negotiating team here. They say I have been replaced by Rene Abandi but the facilitator has agreed to remain with the same delegation. Those who want to join Makenga should go but the delegation in Kampala will remain. It’s Runiga who sacked Gen. Makenga, not the other way round. A General cannot sack a president. It’s the president to sack a general.
4. Do you agree with those who say that the cause of disagreement between Makenga and Runiga is Bosco Ntaganda who is close to Runiga?
I still insist that the problem is infiltration of our movement by the Kinshasa government. Makenga looked for some unnecessary reasons to disturb us. He said the main reason for his departure is Bosco Ntaganda. That’s not the reason because Makenga worked with Ntaganda in CNDP for four years. He worked with Ntaganda for three years in government after the signing of the agreement between CNDP and Kinshasa government. How come today he is saying Ntaganda is bad? That’s not the reason. The real reason is corruption and I say again that the real reason is a strategy by the government of Kinshasa to divide us.
5. What about those who say that the rivalry between Runiga and Makenga stems from the wrangle between Ntaganda and Nkunda because Runiga is close to Ntaganda and Makenga is allied to Nkunda?
That’s another issue. There is a historical problem within the movement. When the CNDP signed the agreement with the government, some members, including the family and friends of Nkunda were against signing of the agreement. Nkunda was arrested. After the arrest, those who supported the agreement continued with the process. But the process later failed. After failing, we left and began fighting Kabila again. We called all the members who had left CNDP because they were against the signing of the agreement. But it has not worked. The disagreement between Gen. Nkunda and Gen. Ntaganda is an element but principle in this disagreement. The main cause is Kinshasa trying to disorganise us.
6. What were the key areas of disagreement between Ntaganda and Nkunda and secondly I understand the delegates who are here to negotiate with Kinshasa also have divided loyalties between these two general?
The main disagreement was that Ntaganda accepted to talk with the Congolese government in 2009, but Nkunda refused and he was arrested. Yes, the delegates are divided. Four of them have gone out and have left the talks. We are looking at how to solve the problem. We are now eight remaining including, Lumbala, Kyokwe, Tomitambwe, Nzabirinda and others.
7. Don’t you think your group is likely to be seen to be associating with a fugitive because you are working with Bosco Ntaganda who is wanted by the International Criminal Court?
We are M23 and not Ntaganda group as some people have tried to portray us. Runiga is our chairman. There are historical ties which bind us together but we are M23. All these stories you read are calculated and planned by the Kinshasa government. In Kampala, they pushed that we start with agenda item number two on the list of the issues to discuss, which was security and other political issues. We were supposed to talk about elections and other sensitive issues. They are now looking for scapegoats because they know it would be difficult for Kabila to resolve the problem.