Wednesday, February 18, 2009

DRC News Update: 65% of Joint Military Operation Accomplished

DR Congo, Rwanda accomplish 65% of joint military operation

XINHUA - February 15, 2009

The joint forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) and Rwanda have accomplished 65 percent of the military operation against Rwandan Hutu rebels, dealing a heavy blow to the insurgency, according to the Congolese government.

Communication Minister Lambert Mende unveiled the achievements in the capital Kinshasa at a press conference, saying the government is totally satisfied with the joint military operation which has not caused any civilian casualties.

The operation, which was launched on Jan. 20, has led to the arrest of Edmond Garamba, spokesman for the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda ( FDLR), which is linked to the 1994 massacre in Rwanda, Mende said, adding the captive has been handed over to Rwanda.

The government is equally satisfied with the result of 334 child soldiers brought out of the FDLR in the operation, the official told reporters.

He said fierce fighting erupted in the Masisi region of North Kivu province on Thursday, when the coalition launched air bombing, killing 40 FDLR combatants including four officers and injuring 17 rebels.

The raid was intended to end the FDLR menace to attack aircraft of the UN peacekeeping mission in DR Congo (MONUC) and civilian planes, the official said.

He expected the joint operation to fulfill 80 percent by the end of the month with the rest to be done by the Congolese army and MONUC.

"One cannot imagine a 100 percent success of this work against rebels who have been holed up nearly 15 years in DR Congo. But the essential is to break the backbone of this movement so that one can control the residue forces," declared the official.

The FDLR is a root cause of DR Congo's internal conflicts and extern tensions with Rwanda. Under an African plan to restore stability in the Great Lakes region, the two neighboring countries decided to join hand in December to uproot the long-standing trouble maker for both.

The Congolese government invited thousands of Rwandan troops to join the anti-FDLR operation in January, citing article 91 of the Constitution, in a turnaround from mutual hostilities which led tothe break of their diplomatic relations in the 1990s.

To the surprise of all, the joint operation set it first target at renegade Tutsi general Laurent Nkunda, who was arrested on Jan.22 in Rwanda after fleeing an attack by coalition forces.

The surprise attack removed the first and foremost threat to the Congolese government, which had been battered in months of advance by Nkunda's National Council for the Defense of the People(CNDP) in North Kivu.

But the progress on the ground falls short of overcoming lingering fears about the Rwandan military presence DR Congo. On Tuesday, most of the 500 Congolese lawmakers signed a petition to President Joseph Kabila, calling for an early withdrawal of Rwandan troops.

Kabila himself has demanded the pullback of foreign troops by the end of February with or without the operation targets fulfilled.

DR Congo witnessed the invasion of both Ugandan and Rwandan troops in the 1990s. The two countries recalled their troops from DR Congo under a peace deal in 2002.

Besides the military pullout, the war-torn central African country faces subtle diplomacy in another issue -- the treatment of Nkunda.

The Congelese government has twice requested the extradition of the man, accusing him of committing war crimes. Rwanda wants him to be treated politically rather than in the hands of jurists.

DR Congo, which won independence from Belgium in 1960, has suffered two civil wars since the 1990s. The 1998-2003 Congo war sucked in several countries in the Great Lakes region, including Angola, Zimbabwe, Rwanda and Uganda. More than 5 million people died in the bloodshed.

There are still an estimated 1 million refugees in North Kivu, including 250,000 displaced in the months-old flare-up between the government forces and the CNDP.

Officials: LRA Threat 'Gravely Reduced'

VOA News - February 15, 2009

Officials say Ugandan rebels who have terrorized central Africa are getting weaker in the face of a regional military offensive.

A spokesman for the joint military effort, Captain Deo Akiki, says the Lord's Resistance Army's capacity to kill and abduct people has been, in his words, gravely reduced.

The French news agency, AFP, quotes a Congolese government spokesman, Lambert Mede, as saying soldiers have trapped what he calls the rebel group's "hard core" in a swampy forest in Congo's Garamba national park.

There has been no independent confirmation of that report.

Ugandan, Congolese and southern Sudanese forces launched the offensive against LRA fighters in mid-December. The LRA has since launched attacks on numerous villages across northeastern Congo and southern Sudan, killing hundreds of people.

Mende says Congolese President Joseph Kabila and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni will meet sometime by the end of this month to evaluate the situation.

The LRA has been fighting Uganda's government for 20 years. In recent years, the group has evolved into a regional threat, carrying out killings and kidnappings in Congo, southern Sudan and the Central African Republic.

The group has negotiated a peace deal with the Ugandan government, but LRA chief Joseph Kony has failed to show up multiple times to sign the deal. The group has said it wants the International Criminal Court to drop war crimes charges against rebel leaders before it will sign the accord.

Behind the LRA's terror tactics

By Martin Plaut
BBC News, Yambio

The Lord's Resistance Army, once a Ugandan group, has driven tens of thousands from their homes in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan since it launched a campaign of terror at Christmas.

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) estimates that by the end of January 130,000 Congolese and at least 10,000 Sudanese had been forced to flee.

In addition, the UNHCR reports that an LRA attack on the Congolese town of Aba, population 100,000, resulted in almost the entire population evacuating the town.

It believes that 5,000 people have already crossed into Sudan at the town of Lasu.

This pattern of attacks, all along a 300km (186-mile) stretch of the Sudan-Congo border, follows a co-ordinated offensive against the LRA late in 2008.

On 14 December the forces of three countries ­- Uganda, Sudan and Congo -­ attacked LRA bases in Congo.

It was an attempt to kill as many of the LRA as possible and shatter the movement's command structure.

But the operation was hampered by poor co-ordination and the dense forests in this region -­ ideal cover for guerrilla forces.

According to Capt Deo Akiiki of the Ugandan Army, these operations resulted in almost 50 fighters being captured and more than 150 killed.

The LRA responded as it had done in March 2002, when the Ugandan army launched a massive military offensive, named Operation Iron Fist, against the LRA bases in South Sudan, with the agreement of the government in Khartoum.

In 2002 LRA leader Joseph Kony split up his forces, before bringing them together again and crossing back into Uganda to carry out attacks on civilians on a scale and a brutality not seen since 1995 to 1996.

In December 2008 the LRA repeated this tactic, dividing into small units,­ some as few as five or six men.

These units launched a series of attacks on an unprecedented scale in towns and villages across northern Congo and South Sudan. The UN and humanitarian agencies estimate the rebels have slaughtered some 900 civilians since Christmas.

Villages along the border are now empty as people have fled before the LRA atrocities, which have included tying groups of women together before smashing their skulls and killing babies with heated machetes.

'Strategic slaughter'

One man who witnessed a Christmas Day massacre by the LRA at a Catholic church in Doroma, a town on the border of DR Congo, recalls how the rebels pounced as worshippers gathered for a festive dinner.

"The LRA had guns, but they did not use them," Isador Bashima said. "They used machetes and swords.

"I went with my aunt and uncle. Both of them were killed.

"When I saw the enemies surround us I automatically ran and escaped. I was really very sorry, but I could not stand any longer."

The LRA attacks on ordinary civilians are not simply random acts of brutality, but form part of a concerted strategy.

Firstly, the LRA is too weak to directly stand up to the armies now confronting it.

Reports suggest the rebels may have as few as 1,000 trained soldiers, with the rest made up of children who have been forced into the movement.

Attacking villages proves the LRA is still a viable organisation and puts pressure on Sudan and Congo to return to the negotiating table.

But there is a second - possibly more important - ­reason for the killings.

It ties up soldiers in attempting to defend the civilians, reducing the number pursuing Kony and his men across the vast area in which they are operating.

'Clandestine support'

According to UN humanitarian envoy John Holmes, the LRA has scattered across 40,000 sq km (15,000 square miles) of dense forests and plains, five times the area they operated in before the offensive.

This includes parts of the Central African Republic.

The border area is now heavily militarised -­ Congolese on one side and the Sudanese on the other.

They are supported by two brigades of Ugandan troops, around 6,000 strong, which have helicopters at their disposal.

But the government of this region believes the LRA is only able to continue its offensive with outside support.

The deputy governor of the South Sudanese state of Western Equatoria, Col Joseph Ngere, told the BBC that in his view elements in the Sudanese government in Khartoum were supporting the LRA, as they had in the past.

"He had Khartoum's government support in the 1980s," said Col Ngere. "And I think that continues."

Khartoum has routinely dismissed such allegations.

What sort of man is Joseph Kony?

Col Ngere was on the South Sudanese team negotiating with the LRA over nearly two years, and is one of only a handful of people who know the elusive rebel leader.

"Kony is a cool person and looks like a normal human being," Col Ngere said. "When you meet him there is nothing about him that makes you think he is a murderer.

"But his mind is destabilised. He is not consistent, and changes the course of any discussion very rapidly. He is suspicious of everyone.

"Kony thinks that the strategy of killing civilians will put pressure on the government of South Sudan to reopen peace talks.

"He has much to gain from this strategy. During the talks Kony gets free food and money. His wives and children are transported from Uganda to come and see him. He gets recognition. That is what he wants."

The view that Khartoum's hand is behind the LRA attacks is shared by many South Sudanese troops - an indication of the deep mistrust between North and South Sudan.

The one force in the area that is not involved in this conflict is the United Nations Mission in Sudan (Unmis).

Its mission is to support the implementation of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended the North-South war.

But the head of Southern Sudanese forces in Western Equatoria, Brig Gen Deng Rok Dit, is critical of the Unmis role.

"Kony is a regional problem and an international problem. He is a terrorist," says the brigadier. "Unmis is not helping us at all. They are not even giving us intelligence. Nothing."

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2009/02/17 10:40:25 GMT

Air Raid Kills Hutu Militia in DRC

VOA News - February 13, 2009

Army officials in the Democratic Republic of Congo say an air raid has killed more than 40 Rwandan Hutu rebels.

The Thursday strike on the camp where leaders of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda were meeting also wounded several other rebels.

The attack came after the Congolese government gave Rwandan soldiers the go ahead to join forces with its own troops in the east of the country to attack ethnic Hutu militia.

The militia are seen as a root cause of instability in the region. Some of their leaders are accused of being behind the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

Meanwhile, a coalition of human rights groups says protecting civilians in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo should be a top priority as Congolese and Rwandan government forces pursue their joint operation.

UN mission in DR Congo says situation calm in North Kivu province

XINHUA - February 8, 2009

The UN peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo says the situation in the troubled North Kivu province is calm despite the on-going joint military operation against Rwandan rebels.

The mission, known by its French acronym MONUC, has not involved in the attack on the rebel Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda ( FDLR) although it provides logistic support, a MONUC official said on Saturday.

"We have not assisted in the combats," Leila Zerrougui declared, adding that MONUC is only engaged in logistic support for the joint military operation of DR Congo and Rwanda.

She also disclosed that MONUC has repatriated 216 ex-combatants to Rwanda. "The figures are on the rise. It is about voluntary repatriation after MONUC launched a propaganda operation for all persons who want to return to Rwanda," she said.

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Rwandan returnees have totaled 1,200 since the Congolese-Rwandan operation started last month.

MONUC reported a calm situation in the conflict-stricken province after some aid agencies expressed fear about refugees' plight. In DR Congo, some politicians also feel unease about the presence of Rwandan troops, which crossed the border twice in the 1990s to attack FDLR rebels.

The Congolese-Rwandan operation, however, was commended by the just ended African Union summit as a positive step to maintain stability in the Great Lakes region, where several countries were embroidered in the 1998-2003 Congo War.

FDLR is linked to the 1994 massacre in Rwanda in which 800, 000Tutsis and moderate Rwandans were killed. The perpetrators fled to DR Congo's North Kivu province afterwards to become a root cause of the central African country's internal conflicts and external tensions with Rwanda.

Spurred by African countries, the two neighboring countries decided in December to join hands to uproot FDLR in search for rapprochement.

Rwandan troops were invited to join the Congolese army last month in the anti-insurgency operation, which also led to the arrest of renegade Tutsi general Laurent Nkunda, whose battle hardened National Congress in Defense of the People had taken large swaths in North Kivu.

The joint operation is going on with a number of FDLR fighters reportedly killed in the jungle.

On Friday, FDLR commander Ignace Murwanashyaka made an appeal for negotiations on condition of security guarantees for his combatants.

In response, Congolese Communication Minister Lambert Mende Omalanga demanded the cornered rebel group lay down arms before talks that should be held in Rwanda rather than in DR Congo, and between FDLR and Kigali rather than with Kinshasa.

Murwanashyaka also said Rwandan Hutus wishing to stay in DR Congo must seek a refugee status "without arms."

With the joint operation progressing on the ground, more and more Rwandans in DR Congo want to return to their home country on the voluntary basis, Congolese officials say.

Some officials even believe the exodus of Rwandan Hutus could render FDLR baseless in North and South Kivu provinces, where the rebel group has been holed up since the 1994 massacre.

President Joseph Kabila expects an end to the joint operation in February, saying Rwandan troops will withdraw within the month.

End of Ebola outbreak

WHO - February 17, 2009

The Ministry of Health of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has on 16 February 2009 declared the end of the Ebola epidemic in the Mweka and Luebo health zones in the Province of Kasai Occidental . The last person to be infected by the virus died on 1 January 2009. This is more than double the maximum incubation period (42 days) for Ebola.

As of today, the health authorities have reported a total of 32 cases, including 15 deaths from Ebola. These 32 cases include confirmed, probable and suspect cases. During this outbreak, the Ebola virus was confirmed by laboratory tests at the Institut National de Recherches Biologiques (INRB) in Kinshasa, the Centre International de Recherches Médicales de Franceville (CIRMF) in Gabon, and the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), South Africa.

The WHO Country Office, Regional Office and Headquarters supported the MoH in Kinshasa and in the field at the location of the outbreak. The international response to the outbreak also involved UNICEF, the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC), and the World Food Programme (WFP), as well as support from Caritas (Belgium), and the Congolese (DRC) Red Cross, together with partners in the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN), including the National Microbiology Laboratory (NML) of the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), CIRMF, and NICD, and Médecins Sans Frontières (Belgium).

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