Quagmire in east set to blight DRC elections

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– More than three years ago, peace accords signed in the South Kivu provincial capital, Goma, were supposed to signal the end of violence and displacement in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. However, as the country heads for general elections in November, armed factions continue to destabilize the country. IRIN explores the sticking points in the protracted conflict, which has displaced hundreds of thousands of civilians:

Post-signing

In January 2008, 22 armed groups from North and South Kivu provinces signed a peace accord in Goma that provided for an immediate ceasefire, the integration of armed groups into the Congolese army (FARDC) and an end to government support for foreign militias. The agreement followed a 2007 agreement between Rwanda and the DRC to demobilize Hutu militias who were wreaking havoc on the civilian population.

In integrating combatants from various armed groups into the Congolese military, the accord supposedly laid the foundation for a new strategy for regional peace. But as the Pole Institute wrote: “The Goma peace accord was merely a signpost roughly pointing out the direction to be taken and distance to be covered. Everything else depended on the travellers’ choices and willingness to implement their agreement.”

Civilian protection

The numbers of displaced from North and South Kivu are alarming. More than 1.7 million civilians were displaced due to attacks and armed confrontations as of 31 March 2011, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). The UN Population Fund estimates 60 women suffer sexual violence each week. Other incidents, in which Congolese and foreign armed groups collect illegal taxes, loot, burn villages, and commit other atrocities, go uncounted. OCHA documented 142 attacks on humanitarian workers since the beginning of 2010.

And yet since 1 July 2010, the region has officially been in a period of “stabilization”, attested to by the changed name and mandate of the UN in the DRC, now the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO). Its two priorities, spelled out in Security Council resolution 1925, are the “protection of civilians” and “stabilization and peace consolidation” in the DRC.

Rwandans in the DRC

The Forces démocratiques de liberation du Rwanda (FDLR) is a militia comprising Hutu extremists who fled Rwanda after the 1994 genocide, as well as Hutu members of the former Rwandan army and other displaced Rwandan Hutus. The FDLR and its offshoots, among other rebel groups, “have been responsible for terrible atrocities in eastern Congo, including widespread and systematic sexual violence”, according to the Enough Project.

Photo: Les Neuhaus/IRIN
Rebel leader Laurent Nkunda The FDLR is now believed to have about 1,000 men, from about 7,000 in 2008. Although their numbers have decreased, their presence continues to pose grave security problems. Their presence is also the raison d’être for Congolese rebel groups, including the National Congress for the Defence of People (CNDP) led by Tutsi Laurent Nkunda, who was arrested in January under an international warrant and is now under house arrest in Kigali, the Rwandan capital.

Despite the Amani Leo and Amani ya Kweli operations jointly mounted against the FDLR by the former UN mission, MONUC, and the Congolese military in 2010, the group continues to perpetrate abuses in South Kivu Province. Operations Amani ya Kweli (“Certain Peace”) I and II began against the FDLR in May and June 2011.

Integration

An agreement signed on 23 March 2009 revived the integration of the CNDP into the Congolese army, and the transformation of the group’s political wing into an official political party. But the presence of ex-CNDP members in key military and economic positions of government is problematic.

Former CNDP general Bosco Ntaganda, for example, is a commander of FARDC, despite his indictment by the International Criminal Court for war crimes. He also has suspected ties to the mineral trade in the east of the country, and may be linked to an ongoing investigation regarding the seizure of 400kg of gold and US$1.8 million at the Goma airport last February.

The Front Republicain Federaliste (FRF) was the second residual group after the CNDP to rejoin the Congolese army when it laid down arms in January 2011. According to regional specialist Jason Stearns, the group increased from 50 to 500, and has “had a major humanitarian impact in the Hauts Plateux region and formed a complex series of alliances with FDLR, various Mai Mai groups, and the Tutsi in Burundi”.

The FRF’s Major Venant Bisogo and Major Michel Rukunda Manika were appointed to senior leadership roles in FARDC, but the rest of its soldiers await jobs.

A small fringe group of the FRF, led by Col Richard Tawimbi, is still running rogue military campaigns. To date, no one has been able to convince him to join the official army. Other armed groups disappointed with their lot have deserted the FARDC training camps.

According to Belgian journalist Colette Braeckman: “If the armed groups remain groups, they retain the capacity to pressure. If they are scattered, they are nothing but isolated individuals.” Few commanders accept the loss of power that would result from agreeing to integrate their men into the national army.

The FARDC is not strong enough to compel them. “Without a strong army, it’s difficult to integrate the most important outside elements,” added Braeckman. “This strong army will be obtained by forming new elements, well cared-for, well-paid, well looked-after. However, to date, no one is taking that risk of reforming the Congolese army.”

Between January and May 2011, the UN’s programme to disarm, demobilize, repatriate, reintegrate and resettle (DDRRR) repatriated 388 foreign combatants. This is about 150 fewer than during the same period in 2010.

MONUSCO said those numbers could be explained by the fact that the residual fringe element staunchly refuses to return to Rwanda for fear of reprisals arising from the genocide. Moreover, according to a UN official from the programme, “awareness can only work if it is accompanied by strong military pressure, operations which are the responsibility of the FARDC”.

Deogratias Buuma, executive secretary of the local NGO Action pour la Paix et la Concorde (APC), said: “The United Nations, with its security policies and logistical armada, fails to communicate with the most remote elements of the FDLR. This situation creates a climate of mistrust and misunderstanding between MONUSCO and the local population.”

Since the Amani operations, the change in the UN mandate limits MONUSCO to providing logistical support and assistance, which is “conditional on a series of demands, notably the respect for human rights”, said Dirk Druet of the policy branch of MONUSCO in Bukavu.

Election issues

Four months before the elections set for 28 November 2011, the eastern part of the country is afraid. Facing a divided army and the prospect of elections, the people of Kivu are worried that, according to the APC, “there is no political neutrality in the military”.

Local politician Vital Kamerhe wants to take the Union pour la Nation Congolaise (UNC) party all the way to the presidency. He is bolstered by some 20 signatures from different political parties, civil society and independent political personalities. A former Kabila supporter, Kamerhe took 94-98 percent of the votes in both Kivus in 2006. But times have changed. Residents in the East are fed up with their living conditions, and other Kabila supporters like the FDLR are being tracked by the Rwandan government.

The Kivus will no doubt be an electoral issue. The situation there shows that the post-Goma agreement seems as difficult to manage as before.

frOm IRIN

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