Monday, February 23, 2009

DRC News Update: Rwanda Army Begins Pullout Ahead of Deadline

Congo-Kinshasa: Rwandan Army Begins Pullout Ahead of Deadline

James Karuhanga
22 February 2009

Matembe/Goma — Rwandan troops in Operation Umoja Wetu's all over eastern DRC started their long homeward march Saturday morning.

The New Times witnessed this set in motion at Matembe, about 300 kilometres from the Rwandan border in DRC's Masisi region where the joint force had earlier captured and destroyed one of the former FDLR strongholds - the 1st division headquarters.

An official ceremony to mark the pullout by the Rwandan troops will be held in Goma on Wednesday.

The overall Commander the joint FARDC-RDF operations, DRC's Lt. Gen. John Numbi also acknowledged this to The New Times in Goma yesterday saying that the operation was a "big success."

"We made the joint plan together - DRC and Rwanda, on how to deal with the FDLR issues and we are supposed to respect the deadline which was given by the two presidents," Gen. Numbi revealed.

"Now we are at the end of our mission , that is why you see our brothers - the RDF, doing this movement today to go back to their country. And the operation has been very successful because, now all FDLR headquarters are destroyed," he said.

Gen. Numbi pointed out that FDLR had "four big headquarters," which have all been destroyed.

"And now, we are on a mission to clean everywhere they are going in the DRC. That is the situation now."

Numbi underlined that efforts would now be concentrated to ensure security for the Congolese population.

"We will try to do it together with MONUC if they can come to join us to provide security for the population."

Queried about the worry and concerns over FDLR reprisals by the Congolese population where the RDF contingent is withdrawing from, Numbi stressed that things have changed.

"You know, before this operation, they (FDLR) used to have confidence in the population, the village chiefs, and with some armed groups. But today, all armed groups - CNDP, Pareco and others, all of them are now integrated in the FARDC and all village chiefs and the population have one mission - to tell us where the FDLR are," he said.

"Nobody can allow the FDLR to have even a small piece of land where they can do agriculture," he noted.

"The situation is not the same as last time, now, FDLR is not allowed to do any activity in our country. All of them must go back," Gen. Numbi underlined, further stressing that all would be done to "give the population full protection.

Congo-Kinshasa: Top UN Official Welcomes Release of Two Hostages

21 February 2009

The two Congolese men, Georges Shanyungu and Célestin Bamwisho, who were kidnapped while working in the eastern province of South Kivu on the UN-supported Amani disarmament programme, were released yesterday in good health.

The Secretary-General's Special Representative for the DRC, Alan Doss said that he appreciated the efforts of "all those who patiently and with great restraint participated or supported the negotiations leading to the release of these figures," in a statement released by his spokesperson.

In his statement, Mr. Doss, who is also head of the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC (MONUC), "paid tribute to the military and civilian personnel of MONUC great coolness and professionalism that have characterized their behavior throughout this difficult period."

The Special Representative recalled "the firmness with which the international community unequivocally condemns hostage-taking which can in no way be considered an expression of political views or legitimate claims."

The two men were in Kamombo on the way to Uvira with a MONUC team which accompanied a delegation of Congolese contributors to the Amani programme, when they were prevented from continuing their voyage in January.

Mr. Shanyungu is the Provincial Minister of the Interior of South Kivu and Mr. Bamwisho is the Permanent Secretary of the Management Committee of the Amani programme for South Kivu.

Uganda: Army Seizes Kony Uniforms

Barbara Among
19 February 2009

Kampala — Bales of new Southern Sudan army uniforms have been captured by the troops pursuing LRA rebels, lending credence to reports that the group is planning a fresh war.

Ugandan intelligence agencies are yet to establish how the rebels acquired the fatigues.

"Heaps of Sudanese uniform, brand-new, were recovered in this area," said Capt. Deo Akiiki, the operation's spokesperson. "It is an indication that Kony is reorganising his resources to begin a fresh war."

The uniforms were seized yesterday in Philipili, south of Diabie Adala in northern DR Congo as the army continued to bombard forested and swampy areas where LRA leader Joseph Kony is believed to be hiding. The area stretches over 150km to the Central African Republic.

The army said it also killed nine rebels, captured three of them and rescued six children.

"LRA is being starved to death although the leaders keep abductees moving promising them food which they don't get," Akiiki said. "We are now on a capture, kill and report menu."

"We are fixing them in a tight corner where they will not have any option but to surrender, be captured or killed," he added.

Meanwhile, the wife of LRA second-in-command Okot Odhiambo is recovering from bullet wounds on her thighs.

Speaking on her hospital bed in Dungu, the tactical base for the joint operation, she said Odhiambo was wounded during the December 14 aerial bombardment. "By the time she left everybody was on his or her own," Capt. Akiiki quoted her.

However, two months since the operation was launched on the rebel camps in Garamba, allied forces are yet to locate Kony, who, along with his two deputies, is wanted at The Hague for war crimes.

The LRA was driven out of northern Uganda in 2005, where it had killed and maimed thousands of people and forced about two million into protected camps.

Estimated to number about 1,000 fighters, officials say the LRA has split into smaller groups which are now hiding at the Central African Republic border.

Rwanda: What Then When 'Umoja Wetu' Comes to an End, Will Monuc Cope?

20 February 2009

Kigali — The DRC-Rwanda joint task force is well and truly in full swing in its quest to rout rebels of the genocidal Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).

The threat that the FDLR has been posing to Congolese nationals in the eastern parts of the country for the past 15 has suddenly started to stick out like a sore thumb. Now the world - with the UN peacekeeping force, MONUC - at the forefront, is starting to sit up and listen.

Even fervent defenders of the FDLR Status-Quo for the last decade and a half have surprisingly kept quiet in the last week, and it is understandable: Their protégés have shown their true colours, the same ones they refused to shed since the 1994 Genocide of Tutsis back home.

The FDLR apologists have been left holding the leash in the hands, the beast having escaped long ago, a menace now prowling in remote villages of Masisi leaving behind a trail of bloodshed.

This latest murderous chapter is a copy-paste repeat of a defeated force's first line of defence, if one could call it that: Flee from the battlefield and target unarmed civilians. This they have turned into an art since 1994.

The UN calls the latest spate of massacres of unarmed civilians "cowardly acts", but the question lingers; Is it the first time MONUC gets a glimpse of what these people are capable of? And if not, why wait all this time to sound the alarm?

The Congolese population is justifiably worried that when the joint operation comes to an end before wiping out the FDLR completely, the rebels will be back in their old positions if serious measures are not taken now.

Is MONUC up to measure? Will they honour their mandate to use force if necessary to protect civilians? Let's wait and see and pray for the Congolese.

Rwanda: DRC - Mai-Mai, Locals Assisting Umoja Wetu

James Karuhanga
20 February 2009

Kilambo — The Mai-Mai militia and Hunde tribesmen in DRC's Masisi region are assisting the ongoing joint Rwanda-DRC military offensive in tracking down FDLR elements.

A Mai-Mai militia leader, Lt. Col Mahindule Muhima, told The New Times yesterday that they had welcomed the joint force because they were tired of atrocities committed by the FDLR (Democratic Front for the Liberation of Rwanda).

According to Muhima, the security threat posed by the FDLR to his people was a major concern and Mai-Mai's raison d'etre.

"We are Congolese, we have seen the way how these FDLR are harming our people and that is why we organized ourselves to protect our people," he said.

"The joint forces found us on the ground and told us their objective - doing away with FDLR, and we welcomed them. Right now, I have just come from Rukweti (an area nearby) and I have managed to bring two FDLR men and their wives," Col. Muhima added.

The FDLR members, who were accompanied by five children, seemed very excited over having escaped from the grip of the FDLR hardliners back in the jungles.

Corporal Jean Baptiste Iramukunda Munyazikwiye from Mirador Unit and Corporal Elias Munanira from Sabena said their units had been devastated by the recent operations.

Munyazikwiye's wife carried a three-day old baby, born in the jungle and her husband stressed that he had to wait for her before he planned to desert.

"Our fighters have been scattered," he maintained, "I could not find a way to escape before because it was very difficult. I am a junior officer and we went by our seniors' orders," he revealed.

"There are many diehards who won't give in easily. These are people who tell everyone that we will be killed when we give in to the Rwandan soldiers. They know what they did back in Rwanda and are very determined not to surrender. They will not allow anybody else to get free either," his wife pointed out," he said.

The Mai-Mai chief also stressed that FDLR leaders are determined to keep their dependents with them.

"Some are spreading false rumours that those who come out will be killed by the Rwandans and that is a problem," he said. Others say that they cannot leave their money and property behind, but we cannot accept this."

Minutes later, a local tribesman came running to report the presence of some FDLR rebels in the area. The worried man pointed out that they had just snatched an old woman's banana juice and other food stuffs in the banana plantation nearby.

"The old woman ran away from them but they have taken the juice she was making. They cannot be far away," the almost out of breath young man told Umoja Wetu soldiers camped nearby.

The soldiers immediately dispatched a unit to locate the group which locals say is a notorious trouble maker; raping and stealing food.

FDLR in disarray

One of the Rwandan commanders, Lt. Col. Sam Baguma, said in an interview that the Rwandan rebels have scattered in small groups and are running in all directions.

"We are now trying to get their proxies around. Their main headquarters was about five hours walking distance from here. We recently destroyed it," he revealed. But he said the job was not done yet.

"They are waiting for the operations to cease and then come out and reorganize in the meantime, many are deserting," said Col. Baguma.

"What we are very sure of is that once we pull out of this place and it is not reoccupied by regular government forces, they will reorganize and come back. This area is important for them, it is where they get enough food from," he noted. But the people are worried at the eventual pullout by the joint force.

"The people here are worried that we are about to leave. FDLR had warned them before they fled that once they cooperate with us, they will kill them. The Congolese government is looking for soldiers to take over once we leave these areas," Baguma said.

The ever looming threat from the FDLR was echoed by residents who fear reprisal attacks.

"They have left, but we are worried they will come back when these soldiers leave. They said they will harm us if we cooperate with Congolese and Rwandan soldiers, said a market woman.

"They usually forced our men to carry their heavy loads and, now, we have peace. We implore the government of Congo to help establish peace. That is all we need here," said the worried woman.

According to the plan, the joint operation which was mounted last month is expected to come to an end with this month and various people, including a group of Congolese traditional leaders have called for an extension of the operation.

Uganda: U.S. Praises Operation Against LRA

Barbara Among
18 February 2009

Kampala — The US ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo, William John Garvelink, has praised Operation Lightning Thunder.

Garvelink on Tuesday told reporters that the ongoing joint military offensive against Joseph Kony's LRA in the DR Congo, showed real success.

Congolese, Ugandan and Southern Sudanese forces launched Operation Lightning Thunder on December 14, but they have so far failed to capture the elusive LRA leader.

The US military has been criticised by humanitarian agencies for supporting a mission that, they say, was poorly planned and executed, leading to the death of hundreds of civilians.

However, ambassador Mary Carlin Yates, the AFRICOM deputy chief said on Monday, the mid-December attack had diminished the rebel's ability to abduct children to serve as fighters.

"Their base, which they used to launch attacks and abduct children, was bombed," Yates said. "The pressure is on."

Meanwhile, international human rights campaigners have called on the UN to deploy more troops in northern DR Congo to halt attacks on civilians.

"The failure of the offensive against the rebels has allowed them to inflict retribution on civilians," a report by Human Rights Watch said.

More than 865 people have been brutally killed and 160 children abducted in a matter of weeks, the report said.

"We are seeing very little protection of civilians. We have less than 300 UN peace-keepers in a humongous area, this is something like 15,000 sq km," Anneke van Woudenberg, a senior HRW researcher, said in a statement.

"Almost no UN peace-keepers are there. And of course the Ugandans and the Congolese who are involved in an operation against the LRA are not doing enough to protect the civilians," she added.

She said an additional 3,000 troops authorised for the DR Congo by the Security Council had yet to be assembled and dispatched.

A UN refugee agency said in a report yesterday that more than 15,000 Congolese had fled to Southern Sudan since the LRA began launching attacks in the north-east DR Congo.

"It is critical to move all the refuges away from border areas for security reasons and to facilitate distribution of aid," the UNHCR spokesman, Ron Redmond, said.

The LRA rebels have launched a fresh spate of attacks following the joint operation.

Military sources said the rebels were hiding within the huge 40,000 square kilometre area of the Garamba jungles.

They are believed to be divided into small groups.

The difficult terrain, isolated location and chronic lack of infrastructure have hampered the hunt to capture or kill them.

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