US, Uganda are in touch on M23 issue - Blinken

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken signs a guest book as he visits the Kigali Genocide Memorial in Kigali, Rwanda, on August 11, 2022. - Blinken is on a ten day trip to Cambodia, Philippines, South Africa, Congo, and Rwanda. PHOTO / AFP

What you need to know:

  • Mr Blinken was responding to a question of Washington taking a hard stance against the Kampala-Kigali hegemony in the lawless eastern DR Congo where the lucrative mining is in the hands of rapacious warlords and international mining cartels.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has hinted on “major reform” underway to deal with the menacing threat of armed groups, including the M23 in the restive eastern DR Congo.

This reform, Mr Blinken said, “will open opportunities with respect to” Washington’s support to embolden defence support to take place.

He made the revelation on Wednesday during an interview with Top Congo FM’s Christian Lusakueno while on visit in the Congolese capital, Kinshasa, as part of his three-African nation tour.

“Secondly, I will talk directly of the M23 problem in Rwanda with President Kagame, and we’ll see after that what happens.  But for the time being, I think there’s momentum in this diplomacy.  We ourselves are trying to make progress for peace.”

He was in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, yesterday where held talks with President Kagame.

Mr Blinken was responding to a question of Washington taking a hard stance against the Kampala-Kigali hegemony in the lawless eastern DR Congo where the lucrative mining is in the hands of rapacious warlords and international mining cartels.

A United Nations panel of experts early this month fingered Kigali of violating international sanctions by extending support, including weapons and uniforms to the ragtag M23 group, which recently launched an offensive in the mineral-rich region leaving a trail of destruction and death.

The 131-page panel of experts report prepared for the UN Security Council, the world body’s most powerful organ, detailed “solid evidence” of Rwandan armed forces operating inside eastern DR Congo since November 2021.

Kigali denied the allegations. However, the revelations came on heels of deteriorating diplomatic relations between DR Congo and Rwanda. The border between the two countries remains closed.

The Ugandan army, the UPDF, late last year also forayed inside the eastern DR Congo to “weaken” the Islamist Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) that recently paid allegiance to the Islamic State as a regional affiliate.

The UPDF operation whilst supported by the UN and the Kinshasa government drew mixed reactions inside Congo, and has so far been a failure, according to recent study.

Mr Blinken lauded ongoing mediation efforts by outgoing Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, and Angolan President João Lourenço to mediate DR Congo and Rwanda, both members of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), a 12 member country body of countries of the Great Lakes region.

In the same vein, he revealed that Washington is in discussion with regional heads of State on the M23/DR Congo-Kigali problem.

“This will continue after the visit.  But for me, it is important to speak directly to the heads of State and the people here, with President Tshisekedi, President Kagame in Rwanda, but also the neighbours.”

“We are in touch with Uganda, with Congo-Brazzaville, and the countries concerned because this is a problem not just with the people, but it’s also the east – but it is also a regional problem.  And we are using – focusing our diplomacy,” he added.

On Wednesday, the US top diplomat also conferenced via call with Congo Brazzaville’s strongman, Mr Denis Sassou N’Guesso, on among other issues the eastern DR Congo problem.

Mr Blinken asked whether it is time to designate M23 as a terrorist group in the same vein as the ADF, said a position is pending.

“This is an issue that we’re following on a constant basis.  We don’t have a final conclusion.  We have already sanctioned in the past individuals and leaders of the M23, and we’ll continue to look at the issue,” he said.

He further weighed-in on the recent decision by Kinshasa to kick out the UN Mission in DR Congo, saying it is in our interest to allow MONUSCO to continue its mission and its mandate with the necessary resources and with the necessary authority to do so.

“I do know that there’s major frustration in the east of the country about insecurity, about the problems on the ground that MONUSCO was not able to manage.  I think we need to ensure that there is real coordination between the various elements. You need to have the necessary resources and, of course, it is very hard to see lost lives because of the conflict between MONUSCO and the citizens.  On both sides, things have to stop. But I think MONUSCO is very important, but it’s not enough, because without a diplomatic opening, without real negotiations to put an end to the situation and to restore security, MONUSCO alone cannot do it.  The whole thing has to happen together,” he added.