We don’t support M23 rebels - UPDF

UPDF soldiers display solar panels captured from the ADF base in 2021. PHOTO/MINISTRY OF DEFENCE

What you need to know:

  • A leaked UN Group of Experts report claimed that Uganda is providing support to M23 and Alliance Fleuve Congo (AFC) rebels, who have captured a big territory in eastern DRC.

The Uganda Peoples’ Defence Forces (UPDF) has contested a report by the United Nations Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of Congo that alleged that Ugandan soldiers are supporting March 23 (M23) rebels against the Kinshasa government.

The Director of Defence Public Information, Brig Felix Kulayigye, said the UN experts have been making the same allegations for some time but have never provided evidence. 

“These allegations have been on but I have never seen any evidence. We have a very cordial relationship with Kinshasa. We can’t be the same people supporting the M23 rebels,” Brig Gen Kulayigye said on Thursday. 

A leaked UN Group of Experts report, claimed that Uganda is providing support to M23 and Alliance Fleuve Congo (AFC) rebels, who have captured a big territory in Eastern DRC. 

The report also alleged that Uganda is providing sanctuary to the rebels and passage to the Rwanda Defence Forces troops, who travel to eastern DRC to fight alongside M23 fighters against the DRC government.

The UN sanctioned M23 rebel leaders, preventing them from travelling abroad, but the UN experts alleged that Uganda allows them to travel through Uganda and Entebbe International Airport. 

In one incident, the UN experts said the rebel leaders met Mr Andrew Mwenda, a prominent journalist in the region, in Kampala City to help them improve their diplomatic relationship with Western missions.

Brig Kulayigye described the UN Group of Experts as lazy, saying they produced a biased report without any attempts to reach out to the UPDF leadership to get their side of the story.

“The report is biased. It is unresearched. It has an imbalance. They (experts) had no intellectual discipline to seek the side of the story from us nor natural justice,” Brig Kulayigye said. 

He said the UPDF was last in the area of DRC where M23 rebels were fighting the Kinshasa government in December 2023 when they were operating under the East Africa Community Regional Forces (EACRF).

The EACRF was an initiative by the leaders of the East Africa Community member states to deploy troops in areas controlled by the rebels as the warring parties sought political means to end the war. Despite the deployment of EACRF in eastern DRC, the war didn’t cease. In November 2023, the Kinshasa government declined to renew the mandate of the EACRF, prompting the troops to withdraw. 

UPDF soldiers inside the forest of Ituri Province, eastern DR Congo on January 17, 2024. PHOTO | ALEX ASHABA

Brig Kulayigye said Uganda has a desire to see peace in the Kivu region, eastern DRC.

“People in Kivu needed peace yesterday and so when we were deployed under EACRF, it was in pursuit of these interests for peace,” he said.

Uganda, with the approval of the DRC government, deployed troops in North Kivu to battle Allied Democratic Forces rebels. The ADF rebels have been carrying out attacks in Uganda and DRC, causing suffering and death of many people.

When UN experts claimed that Uganda was supporting M23 rebels, the politicians in Kinshasa started putting pressure on their government to stop joint operations with Uganda against ADF.  

If UPDF leaves, it will give ADF a sigh of relief given the fact that the Congolese forces are unable to control much of their territory due to a lack of logistics and manpower. According to the UN Group of Experts, a large number of Congolese forces have been redeployed from areas where ADF rebels operate to those where M23 rebels are.