Goma – The Democratic Republic of Congo’s president Joseph Kabila said on Sunday the fight against insurgents in the country’s conflict-torn east was not over despite the recent defeat of the M23 rebels.
Delivering the keynote speech of a 1 200km tour of the mineral-rich but deeply unstable region, Kabila said the surrender of the M23 army mutineers was just one stage in an offensive against armed groups that have harrowed the east for decades.
“If I say the war is over, in fact it’s only a phase because we still run the risk of a new effort to start a war,” he said in Goma, the capital of North Kivu province and a key regional hub briefly seized by the M23 in November 2012.
“We are going to continue preparing ourselves so that we will have a solid, dissuasive army,” he told several hundred hand-picked audience members during an hour-long speech in Swahili, the language most widely spoken in the area.
“I call on the people of North Kivu to be vigilant so that we are not surprised by another war. And if there were another war, I want us to be ready to fight it and win it.”
He repeated an ultimatum for remaining militias in the region to disarm voluntarily or be disarmed by force.
Kabila’s victory lap comes after the Congolese army and a special United Nations intervention force battled the M23 into surrender on 5 November.
Failed peace deal
The mainly Tutsi insurgent group, launched by ex-rebels who had been integrated into the national army under a failed peace deal, had wrought havoc in the region for 18 months.
The UN accused neighbouring Rwanda and Uganda of backing the group, an accusation both countries denied.
Kabila did not name the two countries on Sunday but accused DRC’s neighbours of “putting together armed groups to destabilise our country”.
“Our neighbours… use North Kivu as an entryway to the Congo,” he said.
Kabila also announced that in a bid to breathe new life into government institutions, the heads of state offices would be changed “before the end of the year”.
A source in the president’s office said the overhaul would initially involve the police, army and tax authorities, and would begin in North Kivu province before being rolled out elsewhere.
Kabila began his massive motorcade tour of the region on 20 November. On Monday he is due to travel to Uganda’s capital Kampala to meet his Ugandan counterpart Yoweri Museveni, the mediator for the M23 crisis.