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Schola News: GlobalSecurity: Kivu Conflicts 2003-2008

Following nominations by each of the various signatory groups, President Kabila on 30 June 2003 issued a decree that formally announced the transitional government lineup. The 4 vice presidents took the oath of office on 17 July 2003, and most incoming ministers assumed their new functions within days thereafter. Elections were then scheduled for 2005 or 2006.

Despite the supposed cessation of hostilities, massacres continued in eastern Congo during 2003-2004. Rwandan Hutu militiamen feared returning to Rwanda, believing they would be targeted by revenge-seeking Tutsis. These Hutu remained in the forests of east Congo, preying on villages for food and money. Rwandan incursions into the DRC disrupted the fragile government and created instability. In December 2004, rival units within the DRC's national army clashed in the eastern part of the country. In May 2005 it was reported that Rwandan Hutu rebels based in eastern Congo were responsible for hundreds of summary executions, rapes, beatings and hostage-taking of Congolese civilians in the territory of Walungu, South Kivu Province.

Throughout 2005, rival militias backed by Rwanda and Uganda, respectively, created instability in the northeastern region of Ituri, as they battled over border trade and gold fields. Additionally, Rwandan militias continued to operate in eastern rainforests, keeping the threat of an invasion alive. Still, the rest of the country remained relatively stable under President Kabila.

Elections were scheduled first for June 2006, but the UDPS party threatened to boycott, post-poning elections until late July 2006.

The July 2006 presidential election in Congo, with a field of 32 candidates, ended in crisis. The election ended in a run-off between the leading candidates, incumbent Joseph Kabila and rebel leader Jean Pierre Bemba, who kept their forces on alert. Bemba, who had trailed Kabila by over 16 percent refused to accept defeat. There was only sporadic fighting for 4 days in the wake of the result, until an agreement was reached between the 2 leaders. In early December 2006, Kabila was inaugurated in a ceremony attended by many of Africa's heads of state. Bemba was conspicuous by his absence. Other nations in the Great Lakes region expressed their hope that the election will bring an end to fighting.

Fighting elsewhere in the country also continued. On 24 December 2006, Peter Karim and his Fronts des Nationalistes et Intégrationnistes (FNI) took control of localities in Ituri, including Djugu, 75 km northeast of Bunia, Fataki, and nearby Bule. The move, according to MONUC, violated an agreement between the FARDC and the FNI that required Karim to keep his initial position. The FNI also abducted 15 soldiers, including officers whom they were holding hostage.

However, on 26 December, Brig-Gen Vainqueur Mayala, the Ituri operational zone commander, said the army had recaptured many of the localities that had been seized by the militias. Although he did not give figures, he said both sides suffered many casualties. The clashes resumed again on 31 December 2006 at Djina, 60 km northeast of Bunia, displacing 2,000 towards Nizi, 28 km northeast of Bunia.

These clashes occurred 2 weeks after the government gave Karim the rank of colonel, in compliance with his appointment as an army officer in September 2006. Although mandated to support the Congolese army, MONUC did not take an active part, even into January 2007.

In January 2007, it was reported that Rwandan authorities were mediating between the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and dissident commander Laurent Nkunda, whose forces have been involved in clashes that displaced thousands of civilians in North Kivu province. The clashes between Congrès National pour la Défense du Peuple (CNDP) forces, led by renegade FARDC General Laurent Nkunda, and the DRC army displaced thousands of civilians from their homes in late December 2006. Nkunda had lost 18 fighters in clashes that were quelled by the peacekeepers.

By 18 January 2007, it was reported that renegade General Laurent Nkunda said his forces were reintegrating into the country's national army, following an informal peace deal struck in neighboring Rwanda. Nkunda, who hadled troops loyal to him into rebellion in 2004, was also being sought under an international arrest warrant for war crimes. The statement was immediately contradicted by officials of the DRC government, who said that negotiations to integrate Nkunda and his forces were still ongoing. In addition, the DRC noted it had no authority to grant Nkunda amnesty from international war crimes charges. With no resolution, fighting began again between the CNDP and the FARDC in late January 2007. Government forces were also accused of abuses during the fighting.

In late February 2007, Peter Karim ordered the surrender and disarmament of 170 members of his FNI movement, which included numerous child soldiers, while demaning an amnesty from international war crimes charges. In May 2007, Peter Karim ordered the surrender and disarmament of another 223 FNI members.

Renewed fighting between forces loyal to Jean-Pierre Bemba and the FARDC in March 2007 led to authorities issuing an arrest warrant for the former Vice President on charges of high treason. Despite the fighting, some of Bemba's militia in Equateur province were integrated around the same time into the FARDC. There was a fear that the fighting between Bemba and his forces in the capital, Kinshasa might lead to a mutiny in Equateur Province. By the first week of April, Bemba's forces in Kinshasa had disarmed, under the promise of UN protection and full respect of their rights before the courts of the DRC if they were subsequently tried for any crimes.

On 15 May 2007, the UN Security Council extended the mandate of MONUC until the end of 2007. The resolution also ordered the UN to maintain the size of MONUC at approximately 17,000 troops, 760 military observers, 400 police trainers and 750 personnel of formed police units. Also in May, the BBC and London's Guardian newspaper reported the findings of a UN investigation they say was conducted in 2006, but kept from the public. The BBC quoted witnesses who said Pakistani troops assigned to the UN mission received gold from 2 militia leaders known as Kung Fu and Dragon. It said other witnesses reported hearing conversations in which UN officers spoke of Pakistani troops giving weapons to the militias. The UN subsequently opened an independant investigation in to the claims.

In August 2007, MONUC reported that another 3,500 ex-militia members had agreed to disarm, demobilize and try to reintegrate into the community. The militias involved are the Mouvement Revolutionnaire Congolais (MRC), the Front de Résistance Patriotique de l'Ituri (FRPI), and the Front des Nationalistes et Intégrationnistes (FNI).

Throughout 2007, fighting continued between the FARDC and Rwandan rebels in the country's east, particularly in North and South Kivu Provinces. The fighting also involved MONUC forces and there were various allegations of atrocities on both sides. At least one NGO was forced out of the region during the period due to security concerns. Reports suggested that civilians were bearing the brunt of the fighting and that the fighting had created a constant state of displacement for many. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs finally estimated that some 500,000 people had been displaced in DRC in 2007. A ceasefire with General Nkunda announced by the UN on 6 September 2007 was already noted to have already been showing cracks by 7 September 2007. By 10 September 2007, another outbreak of violence between the 2 groups had been reported.

In October 2007, the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo stated that it had no evidence that the FARDC had joined forces with outlawed Hutu and Mayi-Mayi militia groups to purge the rebellion by dissident army commander General Laurent Nkunda. The FARDC was, however, building up its forces in Eastern DRC in preparation for an attack on Nkunda's forces. Nkunda's forces suffered greatly in the subsequent offensive, which drove him back to the negotiating table, despite initial pledges to continue fighting until his demands to be reinstated in the FARDC were honored. Nkunda also claimed to be defending the Tutsi community in eastern DRC from the central government. The real sticking point appeared to be remain the issue of international war crimes charges against Nkunda, with the DRC government continually demanding and setting deadlines for Nkunda to integrate his troops into the FARDC.

Also in October 2007, Congo's armed forces began preparing to mount an offensive against community-based militias in the east, known as the Mai Mai. A high-ranking member of Congo's army suggested that disarming the Mai Mai would take precedent over purging a rebellion by dissident General Laurent Nkunda. During October 2007, Kibamba Kasereka, leader of the Forces patriotiques Mayi-Mayi, also known as Forces armées populaires de libération (FAPL), and 29 of his men surrendered to UN peacekeepers in the town of Kisharo, in North Kivu province, effectively seeking protection from the DRC government forces.

On 9 November 2007, the DRC and Rwanda signed an agreement to work together against threats to peace and stability in the region. On 22 November 2007, General Babacar Gaye, head of MONUC, said that UN peacekeepers would join members of the FARDC to disarm Laurent Nkunda's milita by force, saying all peaceful means to make the rebels lay down their weapons had been used up.

A UN sponsored peace conference, originally scheduled for late 2007, was held on 6 January 2008, with the hopes of providing a political solution for the crisis in eastern DRC. In preparation for the conference, MONUC called on all anti-government forces in the Kivu Provinces to surrender and enter their disarmament, demobilisation, repatriation, resettlement and reintegration program. The large number of delegates to the conference ended up being more than could be initially facilitated, leading to more delays. On 9 January 2008, the conference finally began to take up various issues. The mistaken identity of a member of Laurent Nkunda's own delegation led to the leader temporarily walking out of the confrence on 10 January 2008, fearing the man to be an assassin. During the conference the CNDP spelled out its demands as wanting talks with the government, the repatriation of Rwandan Hutu rebels active in the country, the return of refugees and exiles and the release of political prisoners. This included a desire to see the return of exiled former vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba. An amnesty for Laurent Nkunda was also discussed.

On 21 January 2008, the UN sponsored peace conference was extended and a ceasefire agreed to by the CNDP and the DRC government. The conference subsequently led to a formal agreement toward peace in eastern DRC between the 2 parties. However, Nkunda said on 23 February 2008 that the CNDP would suspend participation in daily ceasefire meetings provided for under the "act of engagement" in retaliation for a MONUC report accusing the CNDP of killing at least 30 civilians between 16 and 20 January 2008, while the peace talks were ongoing. The breakdown, as well as increased incurions from the Rwandan based FLDR rebel group led to a resumption of violence in eastern DRC.

In May 2008, Jean-Pierre Bemba was arrested in Belgium, for war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed in Central Africa Republic

Violence in North Kivu Province reached a boiling point in June 2008 with an attack on a refugee camp. As a result, the the UN Refugee Agency suspended operations in the region, citing security concerns. The attack was blamed on the FLDR. Continued violence saw the temporary suspension of UN aid activities in the province as well.

Though the FARDC, along with the Rwandan military were primarily engaged against the FLDR, the worsening security situation led to the more active deployment of elements of MONUC to the region by September 2008. UN forces, backed by helicopter gunships, beat back numerous rebel advances in eastern DRC. In October 2008, the FLDR accused the UN of abandoning any pretense of neutrality and actively agitating the conflict. The increased role of MONUC led to Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon requesting an additional 3,000 troops for the mission. In November 2008, the UN Security Council approved the increase. The extra 2,785 troops and 300 police officers were to buttress the 17,000 uniformed personnel already serving with MONUC, the largest UN force worldwide at the time.

In December 2008, the DRC government again entered into UN backed peace talks with the CNDP. Soon after the start of talks, the DRC government negotiators and the UN mediator, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, claimed that the rebels were intentionally delaying the process, hampering any real progress. Talks were suspended for a week, restarting in the Kenyan capital Nairobi on 18 December 2008.

Also in December 2008, a group of experts monitoring the UN arms embargo to the DRC, claimed that there was significant evidence that Rwanda had been supporting the FLDR. There was also the suggestion that the DRC government had actually been supporting the CNDP to fight the FLDR in eastern DRC.

Autore: Vito Conteduca - 13/8/2010

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