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DRC: magnet of violence

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A month ago I wrote that the Goma agreement was as dead as the idea of a self-regulating free market. The events of the last weeks and a report of Amnesty International reaffirm my position. The peace agreement of 23 of January 2008 is inadequate to forestall a minimum degree of stability and peace in the Kivu and has even some perverse effects that not only stands in contrast with its own regulations but also undermines further the social texture of the region. These evolutions take place in a context of a looming national political crisis and a country that is not only terrorized by violence in the Kivu but also in Ituri and Orientale Province due to attacks of local militias and Kony’s Lord Resistance Army (LRA).

Laurent Nkunda’s latest offensive, started on the 28 of August, was directed towards Goma and an attempt to extend the fighting to South Kivu. This region was relative peaceful during the latest months, but now there is the danger that it will be drowned in the never ending spiral of violence of its northern neighbour, complicating only more any possible settlement of the conflict. The clashes between the CNDP rebels and the Congolese army (FARDC) demonstrated again the incompetence of the latter to defeat Nkunda’s movement and to protect the civilian population. A new element in the latest episode of the conflict is the role of MONUC. After heavy criticism of the latest months, it seems to be that the UN peacekeeping force finally started to act.

This time MONUC troops held their positions (a month ago there were testimonies of withdrawing peace forces, leaving civilians to their fate), beat off in some occasions CNDP attacks (last week MONUC could stop Nkunda’s advance to Masisi by intervening with combat helicopters) and send reinforcements to the various fronts. In a very optimistic mood one can say that by this new more active posture of the MONUC, Nkunda’s CNDP will come to realize that they can’t be victorious and that a negotiated settlement is the only rational option left. The problem with such a train of thought is that the CNDP doesn’t want a stabilisation of the situation. Every offensive, every attack is motivated by the fact that it creates chaos and insecurity. Such a chaos and insecurity serve directly what is really on stake for the CNDP: the control over revenues from gold, tin, timber and cobalt. In peacetime the rebels would lose these revenues or at least will have to share them. This logic stands also for all the other armed movements (the Mai Mai militia, the FDLR), including the FARDC.
Moreover, apparently the incompetence of the FARDC inspired Nkunda to announce in a BBC interview to introduce a change in the CNDP’s agenda. No longer is the defending of Tutsi-interests in the region, but the liberation of whole Congo now the new adagium. Anxious by these new fights, Alan Doss, UN Special Representative for Congo, asked for more troops and more means during a special session of the UN Security Council.

Given that incompetence, both wished as unintended, of the FARDC to defeat the CNDP, it becomes time that Kabila understands that the Congolese government can’t resolve the conflict military. Hence, terms of “using all means” to institute peace like he did mid-September, should be replaced by phrases like: negotiations which deal the underlying causes of the conflict –the issues of land distribution, control over natural resources, political representation, development- instead of only fighting the symptoms, like the Amani program does. The problem is that the Congolese government, like the international community, still have faith in the Amani program. Kinshasa for example refused to comply with Nkunda’s request to negotiate directly, saying that negotiations should occur via the Amani program, namely through the Commission of Peace and Security. It’s bizarre to see how governments and international organizations keep on sticking to a signed text of conflict resolution; whereas reality demonstrates the inadequacy of the agreement (another example of such an attitude is the Darfur Peace Agreement of May 2006).

The most shocking news fact and one that clearly shows the dead-lock of the Goma agreement is a report of Amnesty International. Based on testimonies, the report states that half of the children that where set free in North Kivu, are again recruited later by one of the armed movements, particularly by the CNDP and Mai Mai militia. An aid worker says even that for every two children that are liberated, five others are recruited. UNICEF already sounded the alarm in April and seems to be that the problem became worse. Although the Goma agreement stipulated that the fighting parties had to set free all their child soldiers, the CNDP has more kadogo than before the agreement. The reason is that the agreement provided to give rebel leaders a rank in the Congolese army in correspondence with the amount of fighters they have under their command.

Another alarming message comes from Ituri and Dungu in Orientale Province. In Ituri a new armed movement called Front Populaire pour la Justice au Congo (FPJC) captured some villages around Bunia which were previously controlled by the FARDC. According to its self-declared colonel, Charif Manda, the FPJC is the first multi-ethnic movement in Ituri.

Although the agenda of this new armed group is unknown, its supporters would be ex members of the Union des Patriotes Congolais (UPC, its former leader, Thomas Lubanga, is arrested by the Congolese authorities and transferred to the ICC against who it issued an arrest warrant for numerous human right violations), the Front Nationaliste et Intégrationniste (FNI) and the Front de Résistance Patriotique de l’Ituri (FPRI), all militias which are responsible for numerous war crimes, crimes against humanity and human right violations in Ituri’s latest episode of violence. Ituri as region came for the first time under international attention in June 1999 when it was hit by the first eruption of a large scale conflict between Hema and Lendu elites. Likewise in Kivu, it is the struggle for control and access to land and other natural resources (gold) what was at stake. And just like in the Kivu this competition led to an alliance between rural armed actors, economic entrepreneurs and local authorities and a general environment of violence and despair, causing more than 50,000 deaths since 1999. Although the first European military intervention (Artemis) and later MONUC did improve the situation, leading to a considerable progress in disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of militias, there are still hundreds dissident fighters of various armed movement. Another striking similarity with Kivu is the role of neighbouring countries in both conflicts. Where Kabila blames the regime of Kigali for the agitated situation in Kivu, the FARDC says that leaders of the FRPI have established links with rebels from neighbouring Uganda who are supplying them with guns and ammunition.

Attacks of the Lord Resistance Army in Dungu caused thousands displaced -Caritas speaks of 75,000- of which hundreds sought safety in South Sudan. Since a year Kony’s rebels have found a hiding place in the Garamba national park, northeast Congo close to the border with Southern Sudan and Uganda. MONUC estimates the number of LRA fighters in Congo at 800 to 1,000. From its base the LRA attacked and looted several villages and health centres, killing dozens of citizens, abducting over a hundred others, amongst them 90 children. UNHCR is concerned that the humanitarian situation could get worse. The rain season just started and due to the looting of villages the stocks of food is diminished. Although Kinshasa send 2,000 troops to end the LRA’s attacks, assisted logistically by 400 MONUC peacekeepers, my experience says that they will not succeed in eliminating the LRA. Meanwhile the peace process between the rebels and Kampala seems to be reached a dead-lock. Kony has made clear that he doesn’t sign any agreement as long they have no guarantees that they will be not persecuted for committed atrocities. The ICC has issued arrest warrants against Kony and other commanders.

These events hit Kinshasa exactly on the moment that a governmental crisis is looming. Antoine Gizenga’s resign as first minister opens great anxiety about his succession. Needless to say that all political parties have the perfect candidate (sometimes they have more than one) in their ranks. PALU, Gizenga’s party and described as followers of Patrice Lumumba, claims that the prime ministers office belongs to them; but UDEMO (supporters of former president Mobutu) and Kabila’s party (AMP) led already know that they are more than interested. The Congolese newspapers Le Potentiel fears the break up of the government coalition which would lead to a political crisis. Hence, the question is: in which way Ituri and Kivu are an issue in Kinshasa nowadays, knowing that MONUC fears starvation and lethal diseases (cholera) among the almost 900,000 displaced in North Kivu alone.

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