Lalibre Reports: Is It Too Late for Eastern Congo?

Image: Luofu Burial Copyright ©HRW

Image: Luofu Burial Copyright ©HRW

Since the spectacular failure of Operation Umoja Wetu in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Congolese forces (FARDC) have formed a new military campaign with MONUC forces. Dubbed Kimia II, the new operation appears headed for the same fate. After the detention of rebel Congolese Tutsi General Laurent Nkunda by Rwandan forces (RDF) in January, Umoja Wetu was intended to eliminate Rwandan Hutu rebels (FDLR), but failed miserably when Rwanda abandoned the operation due to negative public opinion and open, bitter hostility from a Congolese parliament that was in opposition to Congolese President Joseph Kabila’s pact with Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame.

Lalibre’s Marie-France Cros is one of the growing numbers of foreign journalists raising questions and eyebrows regarding the string of colossal military failures in DRC. The irony is complete when one recognizes that “kimia” means “peace” in the local Lingala dialect. Lalibre reports what a minority from Congo have been saying for months– the military efforts since the removal of CNDP leader Nkunda have resulted in an escalation of the violence. She calls the situation “une région au bord de l’explosion”–a region on the brink of explosion, and asks the logical question that American media has not tackeld: “Mais n’est-ce pas trop tard ?”–But is it too late?

Recent events and an ignored report by the independent United Nations’ Special Rappateur explained previous failures and predicted the current escalation, but no one in American media appears to be listening. On May 18 Turkish diplomat Baki I`lkin sent the Interim Report of the Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the United Nations Security Council.

During Umoja Wetu, the FARDC-RDF alliance was able to push back FDLR from some of its key locations, but the military operation suffered from a short timespan, logistical bottlenecks and the reported embezzlement of operational funds, and failed to break the FDLR command and control apparatus, which remains intact. Since the withdrawal of RDF, FDLR has counterattacked in various locations across North and South Kivu, resulting in increased civilian casualties. Delays in the disbursement of FARDC salaries have also exacerbated indiscipline within the newly integrated FARDC units, resulting in ongoing human rights violations perpetrated by FARDC, including looting and attacks on the civilian population.

Kimia II has obviously not fared any better, and the continuing embezzlement of funds resulted in a veritable mutiny of integrated Congolese forces as reported by the BBC.

A senior UN peacekeeper told the BBC that army commanders are not handing over soldiers’ wages. The army and UN forces are conducting an offensive in the region against ethnic Hutu rebels many of whom fled to DR Congo after the Rwandan genocide. A UN spokesman told the BBC the situation needed to be dealt with urgently. “There is a risk of a potential disintegration of the Congolese army,” he said.

But what is the real objective of Kimia II? In late April, the Special Rappateur reports that control of the rich mining sectors was the ultimate goal and the protection of civilian populations was of secondary concern.

At the end of April 2009, Operation Kimia II was yet to be fully on track. Following the deployment of two senior ex-CNDP officers, General Sultani Makenga and Colonel Claude Mucho, to Bukavu and Kindu, respectively, in March 2009, operational plans were put on hold for logistical reasons. Colonel Mucho’s troops had started to move towards Shabunda in South Kivu, although some FARDC officers admitted to the Group that the real objective behind joint operations is to finally take control of mining zones in Walikale. The Group understands from FARDC sources that operations launched by FARDC from Bukavu would be organized in part to clear out FDLR elements from mineral-rich zones in Kalehe.

In addition, the MONUC operated and funded Radio Okapi report on June 23, urged all involved to “avoid the blunders” generated by Umoja Wetu.

In an official press released published yesterday Sunday [21 June],the commander of Operation Kimia Two announced that the FARDC [DRCongo Armed Forces] currently controls nine localities formerly occupied by the FDLR in the territories of Shabunda, Kabare and Walungu. The spokesperson of ex-armed groups in Nord-Kivu said he was pleased with the operations.However, Didier Bitaki, the spokesperson of ex-armed groups, called for caution. Despite being pleased with the beginning of the operation in Sud-Kivu, he said that those planning the operation should learn from the Nord-Kivu experience to avoid blunders. He made a statement on Monday during the programme Dialogue between Congolese. “My reaction, is one of satisfaction, for the operation to be transposed to Sud-Kivu, despite the continuity of atrocities on the ground in Nord-Kivu.

georgiianneMeanwhile the “peacekeepers” in MONUC have refused to attack the FDLR, saying that they are present only to support the Congolese army. We received a report yesterday that in the town of Kanyabayonga, the rebel FDLR set fire to 35 houses, forcing the exodus of the entire population. Details are sketchy now, but reports from the ground say that the FARDC and MONUC troops were deployed only 2 kilometers away and did nothing.

Lack of coverage and international outrage aside, the FDLR in collusion with the FARDC have consistently terrorized the civilian population of eastern Congo. There seems to be no end in sight. Indeed it appears to be too late. “Blunders” are no excuse in this great humanitarian tragedy.

Georgianne Nienaber
Republished with author’s permission from Huffington Post.

Comments

  1. says

    Posted for the author, Georgianne Nienaber

    This message did not originate from an internet café in either Congo or Rwanda. Izzi’s comment originated from the third floor of the Ebene Cyber Tower in “Cyber City,” Mauritius. The organization whose offices “Izzie” was using when this comment was issued is African Network Information Center AFRINIC Some member countries include Congo, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

    AfriNIC is the responsible regionally Internet Registry (RIR) for Africa. The inaugural signing of the NEPAD Broadband ICT Infrastructure Network was held in Kigali, Rwanda on 29 August 2006. The annual report of this corporation can be accessed here: http://www.afrinic.net/annual_report2007.htm These questions merit a measured response and also beg the questions “how” and “why” they originated from the offices of a corporation with a vested financial interest in Rwanda and Congo.

    Izzie: “On what grounds does she make these claims that operation Umoja Wetu was a spectacular failure?”

    A. Read the Interim report of the Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo dated May 4, 2009 and linked in the article. Also, read the full reports of Human Rights Watch at http://www.hrw.org which detail an additional 250,000 refugees since Umoja Wetu began. Read reports at http://www.monuc.org which detail escalating, rapes, burnings, pillaging. Look ate the photos of charred buildings and tiny coffins provided by HRW. “In at least 12 villages in North Kivu province, including Miriki, Bushalingwa, and Kishonja in Lubero and Walikale territories, soldiers burned to the ground hundreds of homes and numerous schools and health centers. They pillaged and looted homes, and arbitrarily arrested at least 85 persons whom they accused of supporting rebel forces. Many of these people have been held without charge, subjected to beatings, and often released only after significant sums were paid. Civilians told Human Rights Watch researchers that they feared army soldiers as much as the Rwandan militias the army is supposed to be neutralizing.” (HRW)

    Izzie: The governments of DRC and Rwanda expressed deep satisfaction not only about the results of the 1 month joint operation, but the even more significant issue, the partnership between the two countries to solve a problem that has threatened and continues to threaten their people since the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

    A. Two agreements had been reached previously (in March 2005and November 2007) between the Hutu militia (FDLR) and Rwanda. In both of them Hutu rebels agreed to disarm and the Rwandan government offered repatriation. But in both cases Kigali failed to implement this and there are instead IDP camps in Rwanda. 85% of the Hutu rebels are under 25 meaning that were at maximum 12 years old during the 1994 genocide and could not have participated. There is no doubt, however, that the leadership of the FDLR is former Interahamwe.

    Izzie: Rwanda certainly did not abandon the mission – it had an agreed timeframe which was respected by both sides.

    A: Read the Interim report of the Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo dated May 4, 2009 and linked in the article which clearly sates that Rwanda abandoned the timetable.

    Izzie: The challenge of Kimia II is to build on the breakthroughs of Umoja and sustain the momentum and determination to rid DRC of the FDLR menace.

    A: Marcel Stoessel, head of Oxfam in DRC, said: “Four months ago an offensive against the FDLR set in train a spiral of violence against civilians which has forced 250,000 to flee their homes and caused untold death and suffering that continues to this day. By any yardstick it has been a humanitarian disaster, and one the world has ignored. The UN force’s top priority in Congo must be to protect the lives of innocent civilians. The UN needs to be aware of the full implications of continuing to support military action in the present circumstances.” (http://www.oxfam.org/en/pressroom/pressrelease/2009-05-13/un-backed-military-operation-drc-likely-cause-widespread-suffering)

  2. Izzi says

    The allegation in this article that operation Umoja Wetu was a “spectacular failure” is very strange, false, and raises serious questions about the intentions of the author.

    on what grounds does she make these claims?

    Both the governments of DRC and Rwanda expressed deep satisfaction not only about the results of the 1 month joint operation, but the even more significant issue, the partnership between the two countries to solve a problem that has threatened and continues to threaten their people since the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

    One just has to reference the statements made by armies on both sides in the media – they recognize that the FDLR problem is not completely dealt with, but their operation bases were destroyed and their capacity to continue fighting weakened. And many who were held hostage in those forces – both fighters and dependents, were able to abandon and return to Rwanda, where they are being reintegrated and tell nightmare stories of life within the FDLR.

    The undisputed fact is that the one month campaign registered more success than any other initiative, even the UN force there (MONUC) – which is the largest UN force yet shows itself incapable to make any progress in protecting Congolese or neutralizing aggressors. Even MONUC’s Public relations officer acknowledged the joint operation’s success related to unprecedented voluntary surrender of FDLR and freeing of populations held captive by FDLR. Indeed, it was reported that the local populations were welcoming of this joint mission’s efforts to rid their areas of the FDLR whose trademark is vicious rape, pillage and destruction.

    Rwanda certainly did not abandon the mission – it had an agreed timeframe which was respected by both sides. That also was clearly reported in media so the comments in this article are false. A recent UN Security Council mission to Africa congratulated President Paul Kagame of Rwanda on the Umoja Wetu campaign, recognizing it as a milestone in both the r/ship between DRC and Rwanda, but also of African countries working together to solve their problems, especially when it is clear that foreign attempts at intervening have produced no tangible results.

    The challenge of Kimia II is to build on the breakthroughs of Umoja and sustain the momentum and determination to rid DRC of the FDLR menace.

    Readers must question why this author seems keen to misinform them.

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