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When will the suffering end?

By matthew stein

New report questions Rwanda-DRC strategy in the Kivu

Rape. Violence. Displacement. Minerals. Pillaging. These are all words that have become synonymous with the relentless conflict in the Kivu region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In 2006, the U.N. estimated that 27,000 sexual assaults had taken place in South Kivu Province alone, and according to a recent report by the International Crisis Group (ICG), there appears to be no viable plan in place to end the suffering.

“The plan to resolve the conflict in the Kivu by emphasizing a military solution is failing,” reads the first line of the report released in November and entitled: ‘Congo: No Stability in Kivu despite Rapprochement with Rwanda.’ The report alleges that secret presidential commitments established between Rwandan President Paul Kagame and his DRC counterpart, Joseph Kabila, in November 2008, “will not bring peace to the Kivu.”

The Congolese Army (FARDC) has since launched three successive military operations to counter rebels belonging to the Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and Congolese militias that refuse to be integrated into the national army. However, the ICG report claims the operations have only multiplied instances of extreme violence in the region.

“Women and girls particularly, have suffered the consequences of impunity and of a highly militarized environment in which rape is endemic,” reads the report. “The population is being victimized by both retribution campaigns of the rebels and unpunished human rights violations by the Congolese soldiers…neither side has the strength to win, but both have the resources to prolong the fighting indefinitely.”

On July 30 this year, the eastern DRC village of Luvungi in DRC was attacked by 300 men from the FDLR rebels and a new Congolese rebel group, Mai Cheka. The area, much like many areas of the Kivu, is a hot spot for rebels on account of its vast mineral wealth, political fragmentation and extreme poverty. Over four days, at least 200 women were savagely gang raped in Luvungi even though a UN base was situated just 11 miles away. The incident was a poignant embarrassment for the UN, which after 10 years of experience and billions of dollars, is failing to protect innocent civilians.

The DRC roundly rejected the report’s content, arguing that joint actions between the FARDC and Rwanda Defense Forces against Rwandan negative elements in Kivu have yielded results. RDC Minister of Communications, Lambert Mende Omalanga, said that the DRC is, “fed up,” with the ICG and that he intends to publish a book that will highlight attempts by neo-colonialists to use groups such as the ICG to maintain control over African states. Little has been said from the Rwandan side over the allegations, and attempts by The Independent to reach the Rwandan Minister for Foreign Affairs Louise Mushikiwabo, for comment, were not answered.

The report also highlights how land conflicts and inter-communal tensions have increased on account of repeated cycles of displacement. “The branches of provincial government are trading accusations of corruption,” says the ICG, “creating a crisis of local governance.”

The report includes references to increased ethnic tensions in the region in anticipation of the repatriation of tens of thousands Congolese refugees living in Rwanda and states that the National Congress of the People’s (CNDP) growing influence has been resented by local leaders who fear it will disadvantage them in 2011-2012 general elections.

The CNDP, formally a Rwanda backed group established to defend the interests of the Tutsi community, was integrated into the national army in the aftermath of the Kagame-Kabila talks in 2008. In January 2009, then CNDP leader, General Laurent Nkunda, was replaced by Bosco Ntaganda, a suspected war criminal that the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for in 2006.

The ICG report lists numerous recommendations specifically for the governments of Congo and Rwanda, but also their relevant international partners, including local U.N peacekeepers. It says the governments of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda must, “oversee and ensure a secure environment for refugee return in the Kivu,” under UNHCR conditions, which include voluntary return and security zones of return.

The report also suggests that the presidents of Congo, Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi organize a special summit of the Economic Community of the Great Lakes Countries (CEPGL), chaired by the African Development Bank, “to agree on economic, land and population movement issues, with the aim of forming a mutually beneficial vision for the future of the Great Lakes region.”

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