KINSHASA, Congo – Mutinous soldiers linked to an Congolese ex-general wanted by the International Criminal Court announced that they had defected from the army and formed a new rebel group.
The move represents a dangerous development for this war-wracked nation, where numerous rebel armies have taken root. A 2009 peace deal allowed some of the rebel leaders to join the regular army, in a tenuous peace. The defecting soldiers belong to the largest of these rebel groups, the former CNDP, whose fighters brought Congo to the brink of civil war in 2009.
A communique from ex-army officer Vianney Kazarama says the soldiers have regrouped and are calling themselves the March 23 Movement. The new group is led by a colonel who was formerly the No. 2 in the army under ex-General Bosco Ntaganda, who is wanted by The Hague for alleged war crimes. Pre-2009, Ntaganda was the chief of staff of the National Congress for the Defense of the People, the rebel group known by its French acronym, CNDP.
Until last month, Ntaganda was allowed to live freely in the provincial capital of Goma. Despite appeals from human rights groups, the Congolese government refused to arrest him on the argument that he was too important to the peace process.
In a dramatic turnaround last month, the Congolese army decided to go after him, launching a military offensive on April 29. Thousands of people have fled, following the fierce fighting. Ntaganda has gone into hiding and his whereabouts are unknown.
On Saturday, the army announced a five-day cease-fire to give the defectors a chance to return. Congolese army spokesman Col. Sylvain Ekenge said Tuesday that 76 mutinous soldiers had rejoined the military. He called the new group a "farce."
However, the creation of the new group is a worrying sign, harkening back to before 2009, when clashes repeatedly erupted in areas controlled by CNDP fighters. The new group takes its name — March 23 — from the date of the 2009 peace accord signed by rebel groups and the Congolese government.
The defections began in early April this year, with ex-CNDP members claiming that the government had failed to implement the provisions in the 2009 accord.