The March 23 Movement (French: Mouvement du 23-Mars), often abbreviated as M23 and also known as the Congolese Revolutionary Army, is a rebel military group based in eastern areas of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), mainly operating in the province of North Kivu. The group is currently involved in an armed conflict with the DRC government which has led to the displacement of large numbers of people. On 20 November 2012, M23 took control of Goma, a provincial capital with a population of one million people, but was requested to evacuate it by the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region as DRC government had finally agreed to negotiate with them. Congolese troops along with UN troops, retook control of Goma and M23 has announced a cease fire, saying it wants to resume peace talks
On 23 March 2009, the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) signed a peace treaty with the DRC government, where it became a political party, and the M23 soldiers integrated into the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC). M23 takes its name from the date of these peace accords (March 23). The armed wing of the group is led by General Makenga Sultani, who has served as acting president of the group since the 28 February 2013 removal of Bishop Jean-Marie Runiga Lugerero, a former CNDP member.
The M23 was formed on 4 April 2012 when nearly 300 soldiers, a majority of then former members of the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), turned against the DRC government, citing poor conditions in the army and the government's unwillingness to implement the 23 March 2009 peace deal. General Bosco Ntaganda, also known as "The Terminator", was accused by the Government of Kinshasa of leading the group, and President Kabila called for his arrest on 11 April 2012. The government had threatened to redeploy former CNDP soldiers away from North Kivu before the full implementation of the peace agreement, which prompted many of them to defect from the army and create the M23.
The M23 is made up primarily of Tutsis and opposes the Hutu Power militia Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) responsible of 1994's genocide against Tutsi in Rwanda as well as area Mai-Mai (community militias mostly created and supported by the Democratic Republic of Congo). To be able to upstaff the troops, occupied villages were asked to deliver youngsters for the formation of village defence committees. This way, a larger number of more experienced soldiers could be stationed on the battlefield. However, this approach backfires when M23 troops try to extort the local population, since the armed youngsters defend their own villagers. Following military successes, M23 rebels have made additional demands, citing issues of human rights, democracy, as well as good governance. They have accused President Kabila of cheating in the November 2011 elections. The rebels have threatened to march on Kinshasa and depose the president.
The rebels have been active in the North Kivu province, fighting government forces in the Rutshuru and Masisi territories. On 6 June 2012 a Congolese spokesman reported that 200 M23 soldiers have died in their mutiny and that over 370 soldiers have surrendered to FARDC, including 25 Rwandan citizens. On 8 July 2012, Colonel Sultani Makenga announced that a government offensive to dislodge the group from their hideouts had failed, and that they had in turn captured several towns towards Goma, the provincial capital.
Late 2012 offensive
March 23 Movement forces had advanced to the outskirts of Goma by 18 November 2012 and warned the UN peacekeepers (MONUSCO) not to support government troops. Congolese government spokesman Lambert Mende accused Rwanda of backing the rebels and stated that the DRC has "not yet declared war, but we are ready to face it. This is our country, our duty".M23 rebels advanced on the city on 20 November, and the Congolese Army retreated with little fighting. M23 forces paraded through the city, with some residents turning out to welcome them. Congolese customs officers abandoned their posts, leaving the border to Rwanda open. United Nations peacekeepers watched the occupation without intervening, stating that their mandate was only to protect civilians. It would later be reported that M23 rebels acquired approximately 20 shipping containers filled with arms and ammunitions of various caliber, as well as 6 artillery pieces (type 26 and BM-type rocket launchers), all of which were abandoned by the FARDC in its retreat from Goma.
DR Congo president Joseph Kabila urged Goma's citizens to "resist" the M23 takeover. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon criticized the M23 for alleged human rights violations during the takeover, including destruction of property, "intimidation of journalists", and the abduction of women and children. Noting that the First Congo War had begun with fighting in the same region, the New York Times described Goma's takeover as "raising serious questions about the stability of Congo as a whole".On November 21, 2012, during the siege more than 2,000 Congolese soldiers and 700 policemen defected to M23.
On 22 November, the FARDC in cooperation with local Mai-Mai elements routed the M23 rebels in the nearby town of Sake, 27 kilometers from Goma, as they started marching toward Bukavu. On the same day, General Gabriel Amisi was suspended from his position in the FARDC by president Kabila due to an inquiry into his alleged role in the sale of arms to various rebel groups including the FDLR in the eastern part of the country, which may have implicated M23. On 23 November, M23 rebels retook Sake from the FARDC after an intense four-hour battle and reinforced their position in the town. The rebels were reported to be expanding toward Kirotshe to the south, Mushaki to the north-west, and Kingi to the north. Meanwhile, the FARDC reinforced their position with more than 3500 soldiers in Minova, near the South Kivu provincial border. The UN declared it lost access to 30 of its 31 refugee camps in the area due to M23's offensive.
On 24 November in South Kivu, Colonel Albert Kahasha, who had surrendered and joined government troops along with other leaders of mai-mai militia groups Raïa Mutomboki and Nyatura on 13 November, again defected from the FARDC. At a regional meeting in Kampala, leaders of the Great Lakes area gave M23 a two-day ultimatum to leave Goma, so that a conglomerate force could take charge of security, which would include international troops, a FARDC company, and a M23 company to be posted near the Goma Airport. The ultimatum expired on 26 November with M23 still controlling the city.
The FARDC, coming from Minova where they previously withdraw after committing rape to almost 126 women some of them at age of less than10 years as reported by the UN and looting personal possessions, money, mobile phones to the local population, launched a counteroffensive against M23 positions in the region of Masisi in North Kivu on 27 November. M23 set-up a road block on the road from Goma to Sake and were reported to extort funds from drivers.
Following a peace deal negotiated in Uganda, the M23 stated its intention to withdraw from Goma by 1 December. On 30 November, M23 troops began to withdraw from Sake, and Masisi. A first contingent of two hundred police officers arrived in Goma on the same day, in anticipation of M23’s withdrawal. It is alleged that M23 operatives are keeping a presence in the city, dressed in civilian police uniform. On the eve of the withdrawal date, M23 rebels have been accused by the Government of DRC of going door to door in some of Goma’s suburbs, looting personal possessions, money, mobile phones, and vehicles. The political wing of the movement has denied the accusation, attributing the looting to criminal elements having escaped from the Munzenze prison.
On 3 December 2012, the FARDC along with government officials re-entered Goma, two days after M23 had left the city.
On 24 February 2013, leaders of 11 African nations signed an agreement designed to bring peace to the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Among the signatories to the agreement were Rwanda and Uganda, both of whom had been accused of aiding the rebellion, a charge the nations deny. The M23 rebels were not represented in the deal's negotiations or at the signing.
On 18 March 2013, Bosco Ntaganda handed himself in to the U.S. embassy in Kigali, Rwanda, where he requested transfer to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands. Though the reasons for his surrender are unknown it was speculated that he was either pressured to do so by Rwanda or feared infighting within the M23 movement and its military leader Sulani Makenga, which had recently forced Ntaganda's forces to flee the DRC into Rwanda. Though Rwanda was not a signatory to the Rome Statute, the media speculated it would be forced to turn him over to the ICC. The U.S. also had listed him on its War Crimes Rewards Programme. On March 22, he was detained by the ICC and appeared for the first time in front of the ICC on 26 March, to which he denied charges of rape, murder, and other offenses.
On 25 February, disagreement between factions of the M23 about how to react to the peace agreement led to violence. M23's political leader, Jean-Marie Runiga Lugerero, was sacked. In a statement signed by M23's military leader, Sultani Makenga, he was accused of treason because of "financial embezzlement, divisions, ethnic hatred, deceit and political immaturity". Makenga declared himself interim leader and clashes between those loyal to Sultani Makenga and those loyal to Jean-Marie Runiga Lugerero, who is allied with Bosco Ntaganda, have killed ten men and two others were hospitalized. M23 has denied that it is hit by dissent.
United Nations Force Intervention Brigade
In March 2013, the United Nations Security Council authorized the deployment of an intervention brigade within MONUSCO to carry out targeted offensive operations, with or without the Congolese national army, against armed groups that threaten peace in eastern DRC. The brigade is based in North Kivu and is made up of a total of 3,069 peacekeepers. It is tasked with neutralizing armed groups, reducing the threat posed to State authority and civilian security and make space for stabilization activities..