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DR Congo

Positive development towards peace

The Inter-Congolese dialogue, the primary entity for negotiating the implementation of the 1999 Lusaka accords, forged an agreement on March 7 in Pretoria, South Africa, on the modalities for drafting a Congolese constitution and for organizing a unified army.
Linda Frommer

The agreement was signed by the parties to the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo that has engulfed this nation of 60 million since August 1998 and embroiled seven other countries: Angola, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, the Central African Republic. As of this writing, the only foreign forces confirmed to be in the Congo are 2,000 soldiers of the Ugandan Popular Defense Forces (UPDF) and the 4,000 troops of the United National peacekeeping force, MONUC. Rwanda withdrew its troops from the Congo in August 2002 under pressure from the United States.

The Pretoria agreement was signed by the Kinshasa government led by President Joseph Kabila; the Mouvement de liberation du Congo (MLC) of Jean-Pierre Bemba, which was organized by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni; the Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie-Kisangani/Mouvement de liberation (RCD-ML) of Mbusi Nyamwisi, also organized by President Museveni; the unarmed opposition; representatives of the Mayi-Mayi or local militias in eastern Congo; and at the last minute, the Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie-Goma, jointly organized by the Ugandan and Rwandan governments but now backed only by the Rwandan government of President Paul Kagame. A meeting of the armed signers of the agreement will be convened on March 15 in Pretoria for further discussion of creating a unified army.

The unanimity in Pretoria, however, is not matched by events on the ground. Only three days before the signing of the agreements, after two days of heavy fighting, the UPDF succeeded in wresting control of the northeastern city of Bunia from the Congolese Patriotic Union (UPC) of Thomas Lubanga. Itself originally organized by Museveni, the UPC was widely supported by the Hima community in Ituri province, an administrative entity carved out of eastern Congo by the Ugandan government in 1999. However, in August, Lubanga and his Ugandan sponsors had a falling out, and Lubanga forged a separate agreement with Museveni’s arch-rivals in Kigali. Meanwhile, the MONUC requested that UPDF remain in the region because its withdrawal might prove destabilizing.

The internecine fights among the invaders of Congo have had devastating impacts on the Congolese people. In its fight to exert its control over this area of northeastern Congo, the UPDF, under the command of Museveni cousin James Kazini, had first sided with the Hima community against the Lendu community. The instigation of local conflict beginning in 1999 led to mass slaughter, which has erupted periodically since, leaving thousands of Lendu and Hima dead. Most recently, with the Hima supporting the UPC, the Ugandans were able to muster support from the Lendu to retake the key mining town of Bunia from the UPC, which Uganda and the Kinshasa government jointly opposed as a proxy for Rwanda.

The area was wracked by violence in the weeks before the final showdown in Bunia between the UPC and the UPDF. According to Bemba and Lubanga, the Ugandan-backed RCD-ML of Mbusa Nyamwisi and several Ugandan divisions carried out a massacre in Bogoro in Ituri Feb. 24 and 25, in which 500 people were killed. While the massacre has not been confirmed and is under investigation by the MONUC peacekeepers, Reuters reported that the conflict in the area was sufficient to force 150,000 civilians to flee. On the other side, Bemba’s MLC has been accused of rape, mass killings, and even cannibalism in its efforts to seize control of the region.

The changing hands of Bunia is a relatively small episode in the Chinese-box unfolding of wars within wars that has ravaged the eastern Congo for the last five years. The death toll in this case is in the hundreds. But it is telling of the descent of the social, economic, and political life of the eastern Congo into the rule of mafia-like warlords who are accountable to no one. At stake is control of the eastern Congo’s vast mineral wealth.

Further south to the Kivus, the story is no different, only the players. The Rwandan army originally marched into Congo in 1996 to put Laurent Kabila in power and to forcibly dismantle the refugee camps of the Hutus that had fled Rwanda in 1994 in the wake of the Rwandan Patriotic Front military seizure of Rwanda and simultaneous anti-Tutsi holocaust. Then in 1998, after Kabila and his Rwandan and Ugandan backers had fallen out, Rwanda and Uganda reinvaded the country, halted midway only by the combined forces of Angola, Namibia, and Zimbabwe. The Congolese entity created as the political cover for the invasion was the RCD. Since 1998, the RCD has fissured five times into: RCD-Goma, RCD-K of Wamba Dia Wamba, RCD-K/ML of Mbusa, RCD-N of Roger Lubala, and Lubanga’s UPC. Coming in from the side is the Ugandan-organized MLC. The RCD-Goma has retained only 20 per cent of its original founders list, according to the International Crisis Group (ICG) January report on the Kivus.

Aside from its demands for security from Rwandan Hutus organized into the FDLR, the Rwandan government also purported to be protecting the Congolese Banyamulenge, originally Rwandan Tutsis who had crossed the border in earlier migrations since 1959. But by this year, large sections of the Banyamulenge had turned on their Rwandan protectors in the area and are now organizing militarily against them.

According to ICG, Jean-Bosco Bahirima, a Banyamulenge and founder of the RCD, went to Kampala last year to forge a deal with Museveni and attempted to recruit and mobilize young Congolese Hutus against the RCD with support also from the Kinshasa government. The broad coalition arrayed against the RCD-Goma, which controls the towns but not the countryside of the Kivus, involves Kivutian Congolese forces including Mai Mai, ex-Rwandan army fighters, and Banyamulenge. There are also reports that Museveni is supporting the Rwandan Hutus against the Kagame regime.

Nevertheless, studies have shown, conflicts do not hinder business relations. Rwandan Hutus or Mai Mai militiamen who control coltan mines in the Kivus have to sell to buyers backed by Kigali.

Business relations do not mitigate the violence, which is constant. For example, on March 3, as Bunia was under seizure by the UPDF, more than 30,000 were displaced by fighting between the RCD-Goma and the Mai-Mai militias in Kasai Oriental province. According to Catholic Relief Services, “the displaced report that their villages were repeatedly looted and burned, that crops were destroyed.”

Who is doing the fighting? According to estimates, 50 per cent of the forces are children under 18 and many of them under 15. A Refugee International report written after a tour of eastern Congo, states that “the choices facing children in the eastern Congo are to join the military, become a street child, or die…. The war-affected children of the eastern Congo have no opportunity for education and eat one meal per day if they are lucky. Many are homeless, forced to flee because of acute poverty. Some have witnessed horrible atrocities committed against their families or their neighbours. Unaccompanied and traumatized, they roam into the big cities and towns.” They often offer themselves up as soldiers or as miners.

These desperate and unprotected children are the results of the devastation of life in eastern Congo. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that the number of displaced in eastern Congo has risen from June 2002 to January 31, 2003, by 500,000 to 2,706,993. This number does not include many out of the reach of agencies and who are hiding in the forests.

All of this has proceeded behind a veil of silence in the international press, with the United Nations and the western powers providing backing to one side or another according to the prevailing business interests of the moment, as witnessed by the United Nations’ backing of Ugandan troops in Congo as a stabilizing force.

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