Antoine Roger Lokongo, PambazukaThe Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC), as the Congolese armed forces are known in French, and the Rwanda- and Uganda-backed M23 rebel movement made up of Rwandan and Ugandan demobilized soldiers, other Tutsi and Hutu insurgents and some Congolese, had not clashed since August 2013. The two sides were awaiting the outcome of the peace talks paid for by the Congolese government in Kampala and overseen by President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni (who also backs the M23). Uganda had assumed the rotating presidency of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region.
However, during the talks, apart from acts of terrorism, rapes, massacres and mineral looting (they have made $500 million since the launch of the insurgency last year, according to a report by Enough Project NGO), the M23 who occupied a huge portion of eastern Congo since May 2012 kept on militarily harassing the FARDC, applying Museveni’s and Kagame’s well-known tactic: “talk and fight”. Kinshasa could not tolerate it anymore, and the Congolese government suspended participation in the talks and the Military High Command ordered an all-out offensive against M23 launched on 25 October 2013.
Just within a week, the FARDC, supported by the intervention brigade made up of Tanzanian and South African troops within the UN Mission for Stabilisation of Congo (MONUSCO) recaptured all the key strongholds occupied by the M23, drove them out of eastern Congo, inflicted heavy losses on them (including the seizure of many weapons) and had many of them surrender, 27 in Rutsuru alone. This spectacular string of victories by the Congolese armed forces and defeats for the M23 started with the recapturing of the town of Kibumba, 30 kilometers from Goma, the provincial capital of North Kivu, on 25 October 2013 where three mass graves were discovered.
On 27 October 2013 the FARDC recaptured the town of Kiwanja, 70 kilometers north of Goma after heavy fighting. Local people welcomed the Congolese armed forces with shouts of joy. Unfortunately, a Tanzanian peacekeeper was killed during the fighting, as the Congo-based UN-sponsored Radio Okapi reported. Just a few hours later the army took control of the city of Rutshuru. The M23 rebels were just fleeing the advance of the FARDC. The people of this city greeted the arrival of the FARDC and encouraged them to pursue the rebels into their last strongholds. On Monday 28 October 2013, the army continued its advance. After Kibumba Kiwanja and Rutshuru, it was the turn of Rumangabo, one of Congo’s biggest military base located 50 kilometers from Goma, to pass under the control of the FARDC. Another mass grave was discovered there. On Wednesday, 30 October 2013, the Congolese military took control of Bunagana, a Congolese town near the border with Uganda which the M23 turned into its political headquarters.