The Congo’s M23 (March 23rd) rebel group has given itself a new name. M23 now wants to be called the Congolese Revolutionary Army (CRA). The rebel group claimed it has around 2,000 fighters and is seeking more recruits. Several observers have estimated that M23 fields 1,000 fighters. Whatever its strength and whatever its name, M23’s leaders have gained confidence since their rebellion began in Spring 2012. On October 23 an M23 spokesman said that the rebel group would take control of more Congolese territory if the national government continued to refuse to conduct direct peace negotiations. The spokesman said that M23’s territorial aims could extend well beyond the enclave it currently controls and beyond North Kivu province.
October 26, 2012: The Congo’s vast Virunga National Park continues to serve as a haven for rebels. A Mai Mai militia group attacked a park facility and killed two park rangers and a Congolese soldier. Five of the Mai Mai militiamen died in the attack. M23 allegedly has a base camp inside the park.
October 20, 2012: The UN Security Council said that it will impose direct sanctions on the M23 rebel movement leaders and will stiffen penalties imposed on countries and organizations supplying M23 with money and weapons. The announcement is not without irony. Rwanda became a member of the Security Council (rotating membership) on October 18 and will serve on the Council for two years. The Security Council also passed a non-binding resolution condemning M23 for its attacks on civilians, humanitarian aid groups, and UN peacekeepers.
October 19, 2012: M23 rebels attacked a Congolese Army (FARDC) position near the town of Kirolirwe (North Kivu province, eastern Congo). There were also reports of firefights near the town of Sake. M23 said that its fighters launched the attack in order to seize weapons from the Congolese Army. M23 claimed that another ethnic Congolese Tutsi rebel group also collaborated in the attack and said the group consisted of former members of the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP). This is the first reported engagement since early September.
October 16, 2012: A new UN investigation has alleged that Rwanda’s defense minister is directly involved with the M23 rebel movement. According to the investigators, there is also evidence that the Ugandan government has ties to the M23 rebels. The contention that Rwanda’s defense minister is somehow in M23’s chain of command, however, is explosive. Both Rwanda and Uganda vehemently reject accusations that their governments support M23. Rwandan General James Kabarebe is the Minister of Defense. He allegedly helped create the M23 group.
October 3, 2012: The Congolese military acknowledged that earlier this year it planned to transfer General Bosco Ntaganda from his Congolese Army post in the eastern Congo. Ntaganda is the leader of the M23 rebel group. Corruption was the reason the government was going to transfer him to another part of the Congo. The government is basically arguing that the real reason for the rebellion is that Ntaganda was not going to give up his control of various mining and smuggling operations.
October 1, 2012: UN observers reported that the M23 rebel has begun to act like a government in the border area it controls. The M23 enclave borders on Rwanda and Uganda. Local sources claimed that M23 officials are collecting taxes in the area. One reported that M23 is imposing a transit tax on individuals passing through the enclave.
September 25, 2012: Congolese living near the Congo-Uganda border told media that the unofficial ceasefire between M23 rebels and the Congolese Army continues to hold. The local Congolese apparently reported on the situation using cell phones. Phoned-in reports from locals are a bit like refugee reports. They are not always accurate and some times they are just rumors. However, the eastern Congo is huge and reporters cannot move around easily due to bad roads, bandits, and warfare. A reliable local source with a cell phone is often (if not always) more trustworthy than any government source or a rebel spokesman.