Tuesday, November 18, 2008

DRC News Update: Rebels Say They Will Withdraw Forces; Army in Disarray; 150,000 Children Out of School

Congo rebels 'to withdraw troops'

Rebels loyal to Laurent Nkunda in the Democratic Republic of Congo say they are withdrawing from two fronts to create humanitarian corridors.

The news came after the army chief of staff was sacked following the recent rebel advances in the east.

Meanwhile, France has presented a draft resolution to the UN Security Council to strengthen the UN force in DR Congo.

But a commander in the UN mission (Monuc) says he cannot defeat rebels because of his rules of engagement.

General Bipin Rawat, who commands 6,000 troops, told the UK's Daily Telegraph newspaper that his forces were denied any element of surprise by having to go into the jungle with white trucks and white armoured vehicles.

UN troops also have to fire warning shots and shout verbal warnings before engaging the rebels, who are gathered near the town of Goma, he said.

However, US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer said the mandate was as tough as it could get.

"Monuc has a Chapter Seven mandate that gives them the authority to protect the civilian population, to protect the peacekeepers themselves and to act very robustly against those negative forces in the Congo," she told the BBC's Hard Talk programme.

At present, there are about 17,000 soldiers and police in DR Congo - the biggest UN force of its kind.

The French resolution - to be voted on next week - would increase the number of UN troops in the country by 3,000.

Clashes between the army and the rebel forces of renegade General Nkunda have driven at estimated 250,000 people from their homes and created a humanitarian crisis.

Buffer zones

Col Jean Muhire, a spokesman for Gen Nkunda's CNDP rebels, told the BBC they were withdrawing to allow aid in and show their commitment to peace following a meeting on Sunday with UN envoy Olusegun Obasanjo.
CNDP : Gen Nkunda's Tutsi rebels - 6,000 fighters
FDLR : Rwandan Hutus - 6-7,000
Mai Mai : pro-government militia - 3,500
Monuc : UN peacekeepers - 6,000 in North Kivu, including about 1,000 in Goma (17,000 nationwide)
DRC army - 90,000 (nationwide)
Source: UN, military experts
The CNDP decided it "must make a unilateral withdrawal of its troops for a distance of 40km (25 miles) on the Kanyabayonga-Nyanzale front and the Kabasha-Kiwanja front," the AFP news agency quotes a rebel statement as saying.

In the rebel-controlled town of Rutshuru, just south of Kiwanja, there is an air of fear as rumours spread about the shooting of several civilians by the rebels, the BBC's Thomas Fessy reports.

Rebels are holding re-education classes for town officials - starting with DR Congo's history from the time of colonisation, he says.

Col Muhire said UN peacekeepers should move into the buffer zone areas to ensure no other force enters territory it leaves.

The BBC's Mark Doyle in eastern DR Congo says that previous rebel offers to withdraw have been reversed, following shooting by government forces or other confusion.

No mention was made of the front line near Goma city, where the two sides are separated by a dormant lava field created by a nearby volcano.

In the latest violence, the rebels took the town of Rwindi, about 125km (75 miles) north of Goma, near Kanyabayonga - a major military base.

The government of President Joseph Kabila has to date rejected rebel calls for direct negotiation.

Court martial

On Monday, it was announced that Mr Kabila had named navy chief General Didier Etumba Longomba as the new head of the armed forces.

Correspondents say General Longomba takes responsibility for a badly paid force with low morale and will need to instil discipline.

The BBC African Service's Kassim Kayira says the army shares the blame for atrocities against the population it is meant to be protecting.

As they have retreated from Gen Nkunda's fighters in recent days, army soldiers looted shops and homes and raped women.

A military tribunal in Goma has sentenced 11 soldiers to life in prison for rape and looting. Another 12 soldiers face court martial in the coming week - one accused of killing a family of six in Goma on 29 October.

Gen Nkunda says he is fighting to protect all minorities, in particular his Tutsi community, from attacks by Rwandan FDLR Hutu rebels who fled to DR Congo after the 1994 genocide.

The Congolese army has been accused of working with the FDLR fighters to exploit eastern DR Congo's rich mineral resources.

The DR Congo government says Gen Nkunda is backed by neighbouring Rwanda - a charge denied by Rwanda's government.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2008/11/18 15:10:59 GMT

Congo Troops in Disarray as Armed Forces Chief Sacked

By Finbarr O'Reilly
LUOFU, Congo

Demoralized Congolese government troops, retreating before eastern rebels, clashed on Tuesday with their own local militia allies who tried to make them stand and fight after the armed forces chief was replaced.

Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila late on Monday sacked and replaced his military chief of staff, General Dieudonne Kayembe, in a bid to bolster the fighting capacity of soldiers who are fleeing before the well-armed Tutsi rebels.

Government troops falling back before a rebel advance on Kanyabayonga in eastern North Kivu province clashed with their own allies of the Pareco Mai-Mai militia, whose pro-government commanders said they wanted the soldiers to halt the rebels.

"We are stopping them and trying to force them back to the front. That is their job. We don't understand how they can flee when the rebels are about to come to Kanyabayonga," Pareco Mai-Mai leader General Sikuli Lafontaine told Reuters.

"These soldiers are cowards. They just flee and then rape and pillage in the cities," he added. Local residents said they saw the bodies of soldiers and Pareco Mai-Mai militiamen killed.

There was no immediate reaction from regular army commanders. Congolese troops in the combat zone complained of not being paid and of not trusting their senior officers.

The confused fighting at Kirumba and Kayna not far from the shores of Lake Edward, which witnesses said involved machine-gun and rocket-propelled grenade fire, raged on despite intense diplomatic efforts to bring peace to eastern Congo, where weeks of combat has displaced a quarter of a million people.

Kabila's government and U.N. peacekeepers say Tutsi rebel leader Laurent Nkunda, whose fighters are waging a four-year-old rebellion in North Kivu, are not respecting a ceasefire Nkunda himself vowed to maintain in weekend talks with a U.N. envoy.

Nkunda and his commanders accuse the army of "provocation."

Kabila named as his new armed forces head former navy chief General Didier Etumba, who had previously served as leader of military intelligence, Congolese state television said.

As aid workers struggle to help hundreds of thousands of refugees in North Kivu, many of them hungry and sick, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has asked the Security Council to urgently reinforce the U.N. peacekeeping force in Congo.


U.N. diplomats said on Monday the Council hoped to vote this week on a French-drafted resolution that would add 3,000 extra troops and police to the 17,000-strong U.N. force in Congo, which is already the biggest of its kind in the world.

The U.N. force, known as MONUC, has been criticised by aid agencies and Congo's government for repeatedly failing to protect civilians from attacking rebels and ill-disciplined government soldiers who kill, loot and rape as they retreat.

Kabila's government and its western allies have been struggling to put together a national army from the patchwork of central army soldiers and former rebel factions that fought in Congo's 1998-2003 war, which sucked in six African states.

But old allegiances, lack of training and discipline and a tradition of seizing booty from the land have made this a difficult task, compounded by ethnic tensions in east Congo.

One Congolese government officer at Luofu near Kirumba, who asked not to be named, listed a long litany of complaints.

"Our soldiers are angry. We haven't received our money for a year .... When the money doesn't come it is like a heavy weapon against us. Our wounded are not well looked after, and we are not well fed," he said. He added the Pareco Mai-Mai militia were preventing the army from retreating into its territory.

The officer said his men did not trust their army land forces chief, General Gabriel Amisi, also known as "Tango Four," because he was a former comrade of rebel leader Nkunda from the Rwandan-backed RCD rebel group that fought in the 1998-2003 war.

"Tango Four was RCD like Laurent Nkunda. We are trying to fight, but they know each other politically," he said.

Congo's North Kivu conflict traces its origins back to Rwanda's 1994 genocide, when Hutu militias killed about 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus before fleeing into eastern Congo.

Nkunda says his rebellion is protecting east Congo's Tutsi minority and accuses Kabila of using a Rwandan Hutu rebel group, the FDLR, which includes perpetrators of the 1994 genocide, to fight against him. Congo accuses neighbouring Rwanda of supporting Nkunda's rebellion, a charge denied by Kigali.

The U.N. envoy who met Nkunda on Sunday, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanajo, said Nkunda agreed to take part in peace talks in Nairobi, but Congolese President Kabila has not confirmed he is ready to meet Nkunda face to face.

Nkunda says he wants to discuss Congo's future with Kabila.

(Additional reporting by David Lewis in Kinshasa; Writing by Pascal Fletcher; Editing by Charles Dick)

DRC: 150,000 children miss school as violence continues in the east

NAIROBI, 14 November 2008 (IRIN) - Fighting in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has forced most schools in Rutshuru territory to close, leaving an estimated 150,000 children out of class, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) said.

"Most children have been displaced," Jaya Murthy, UNICEF communications specialist, told IRIN. "Other children are in the area but unable to attend school."

Fighting resumed late August in North Kivu between forces from rebel group Congrès National pour la Défense du Peuple (CNDP), led by former general, Laurent Nkunda, and the regular Congolese army allied with militias.

Since violence intensified two weeks ago, 85 percent of the 310 schools in the territory have suspended classes, while school buildings have been occupied by displaced civilians and the Congolese army.

According to UNICEF, the armed groups in the area are also continuing to recruit children as young as 14 in Kitchanga, Rugare and Rutshuru.

"From reports, we know that recruitment by all armed groups, except the Congolese army, is continuing in the area," Murthy added. "For example, up to 400 people have been recruited in Kitchanga area - ranging from 14 to 40 years of age."

An estimated 3,000 children were being held by the armed groups before the recent violence broke out, but the numbers are expected to soar.

The violence has sent civilians fleeing from their homes. According to UNICEF, tens of thousands of people are moving north due to ongoing looting in Kanyabayonga.

These include 15,000 to Kisharo, 15,000 to Vitchumbi, 5,000 to Butembo; and thousands between Kiwandja and Rutshuru. The displaced face a high risk of cholera and measles, increasing child malnutrition, and children being separated from their families.

"The situation is still tense, fluid, volatile," Murthy said. "Fighting erupts in different areas almost on a daily basis."

On 13 November, UN Radio reported two skirmishes between government troops and the armed PARECO movement. It also said 3,000 displaced civilians had recently arrived in Goma, the provincial capital.

At least 250,000 civilians have been displaced by the fighting, according to aid workers, including more than 65,000 civilians who are camped at Kibati, a few kilometres from the frontline.

The UN, which has a 17,000-strong peacekeeping force in eastern DRC, is considering sending in an additional 3,000 men to try to contain the situation.

Report can be found online at:

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