By: JAMES KARUHANGA
Amb. Janvier Kanyamashuli (C) chats with the Permanent Secretary of Ministry of Defence, Col Joseph Rutabana (L), and the Congolese Vice Minister for Defence, Rene Sibu Matubuka, after signing documents of joint communique in Kigali. (Timothy Kisambira)
Officials from Rwanda and DR Congo have reiterated commitment toward facilitating the voluntary repatriation of fighters formerly with the defunct rebel group, M23.
This followed a closed-door meeting between a delegation from DR Congo and their Rwandan counterparts in Kigali, yesterday, to discuss the modalities of the former rebels’ eventual repatriation back home.
Reading the final joint communiqué, Amb. Janvier Kanyamashuli, the policy and diplomatic advisor at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said: “The two delegations reiterated their respective governments’ willingness to respect their international obligations.”
He was referring to peace accords including two signed in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in February 2013, and the joint ICGLR-SADC communiqué signed in Nairobi in December 2013.
More than 400 ex-M23 combatants are hosted in the Gisovu and Ngoma camps, in the western and eastern provinces respectively.
“It is important to understand that this repatriation is voluntary and that the Rwandan authorities as well as international observers put emphasis on this voluntary repatriation.” René Sibu Matubuka, the DR Congo deputy defence minister, told reporters.
“And we have to distinguish issues since as regards the material [arms and equipment], there is no discussion as these have been already made available by the Rwandan government.”
The Congolese minister noted that his government has already promulgated an amnesty law that, he added, some of the former rebels are taking advantage of.
He explained that the amnesty law will cater for “those who took up arms against their own country but those who have problems with international law, that is, those who committed war crimes and crimes against humanity” are unpardonable he noted.
Col Joseph Rutabana, the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Defence, said his team facilitated the delegation to meet with leaders of the ex-M23 combatants as well as took the officials to see the stock pile of the former rebels’ arms and equipment.
No deadline is being put on the rebels’ repatriation.
“It is a voluntary process as was indicated in our joint communiqué. We say ‘as soon as possible’ because those who want to go, even tomorrow, they can go. It is a voluntary basis and they are to benefit from an amnesty law,” Col Rutabana said.
“We are ready to cooperate and to give whatever assistance they want to go back home. Same thing with their equipment. We are in the process of handing over the equipment as soon as possible.”
In April 2013, leaders of the ex-M23 group who sought refuge in Rwanda after being overpowered by the first UN peacekeeping unit mandated to conduct targeted operations to neutralise negative forces in eastern DR Congo, renounced rebellion and asked the UN to grant them refugee status.
Jean-Marie Rugerero Runiga, Brig Gen Bauduoin Ngaruye and Col. Innocent Zimurinda are some of the senior ex-M23 rebels in the country.