Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Congolese Reactions

Congolese reacted to the incursion of Rwandan troops into North Kivu at the invitation of DRC's President Kabila with a mix of dismay and incredulity. The 1,500 to 2,000 Rwandan troops, who crossed into DRC Monday morning at Kibumba, are said to be there only to "observe" the efforts of the Congolese army as it tracks down the remnants of the FDLR--the militia responsible for the Rwandan genocide of 1994.

Le Potentiel's lead article notes that wars are easy to start but hard to end. Uganda's recent botched effort to capture Joseph Kony is a case in point. The Ugandan army is back on Congolese soil, but Kony has yet to be caught, and is leaving a trail of rape and massacre as he flees. Meanwhile, the Ugandan army has set up camp in Dungu and is doing little to hunt down the Ugandan rebels. But it is establishing a foothold on the oil and mining areas of Provence Orientale that border Uganda.

The paper readily concedes that both the LRA and the FDLR are murderous militia that prey on the Congolese population and that the Congolese army has done little to alleviate the situation. But with the official return of the Rwandan army, Le Potentiel wonders if the country isn't seeing a return to all-out war. It is suspicious of Rwanda's intentions, noting that during Rwanda's previous sojourns in the Congo, the Rwandan army was far more interested in looting Congolese minerals than chasing dead-enders from 1994. The fact that the army has moved into the Masisi and Rutshuru regions heightens the paper's suspicions, since these regions are known for their mineral wealth.

The paper reports that Mende Omalanga, Minister of Communication and Media, was given the thankless task of confirming the Rwandan incursion, in a statement to Radio Okapi and Télé 7 made on Tuesday morning. "We have issued an invitation to the Rwandan army who came with information officers. That's their mandate. It is a joint operation by the FARDC supported by MONUC."

[MONUC, however, immediately denied being involved, or even informed, about the decision.]

It is "intriguing and disturbing," the paper concludes, that the joint military operation began while the Congolese Parliament is in recess, and it insists that Kabila is constitutionally required to officially confirm the return of Ugandan and Rwandan armies in Congo.

Radio Okapi reports that the president of the National Assembly, Vital Kamerhe, said that parliament had not been informed that the president had invited the Rwandan army into the DRC. "All I know is that the National Assembly adopted a plan to end the crisis in October 2008, and submitted it to the government in the form of recommendations. The plan outlined the framework for the normalization of our relations with Rwanda," he said.

"Now you tell me that Rwandan troops have entered Congo. I prefer to believe that this is false, since if it's true, it raise all kinds of serious questions. How could we invite Rwanda back in when we have barely begun to recover from Rwanda's previous aggression?"

The radio station also reports that EU development commissioner Louis Michel is by contrast very optimistic about the operation: "This is the beginning of the solution to the problems of the Great Lakes region," he said. It is "a tangible sign of cooperation between the two countries," adding that a sustainable peace can only be achieved through cooperation at the regional level. Michel asked the FDLR to disarm and to refrain from any action against civilian populations. He also encouraged other participants in the operation to make every effort to protect human rights and respect the rules of international humanitarian law. No indication of whether he said this with a straight face.

Meanwhile, everyone is reporting that the communities of North Kivu are outraged by the return of Rwandan soldiers in DRC. Representatives condemned what they called the illegal and unconstitutional nature of the incursion, and demanded the Rwandans' rapid withdrawal. They denounced the Congolese government for failing to establish a coherent force agreement with Rwanda that provides a timetable and territorial limits to their presence, assigns them clear and restricted roles, and outlines their terms of engagement.

In Bukavu last Tuesday, a women's organization asked Comfort Lamptey, the gender advisor to the UN's Department of Peacekeeping Operations, to tell MONUC to erect a humanitarian corridor to protect against rape and sexual violence during the joint military operation.

Solange Lwashiga, the executive secretary of the Caucus of South Kivu Women for Peace, said that women are concerned that they and their children will again be vulnerable during this period of renewed military confrontation. "And we have asked MONUC to develop strategies so that during these operations, women would not be raped, or women and children not be killed."

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