Wednesday, April 15, 2009

DRC News Update: Rebels Draw Up 'Hit List'; MONUC Still Wants More Troops

Hutu rebel 'hit list' in DR Congo

A Hutu rebel group in Democratic Republic of Congo is said to have drawn up a "hit list" of those who helped a military operation against it.

A UN official in eastern DR Congo told the BBC that the joint attack this year by the Congolese and Rwandan armies had failed to neutralise the rebels.

Capt Karl Fuller said 800 fighters had tried to attack the village of Pinga in eastern DR Congo on several occasions.

FDLR leaders are accused of taking part in the 1994 genocide of Rwandan Tutsis.

After years of mutual animosity between DR Congo and Rwanda, the two armies worked together in an operation against the FDLR (Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda) in January.

But Capt Fuller said the five-week joint operation had only succeeded in scattering the rebels.

"They've been here for the past 10 years, so they know this area, it's known to them and they have fled their specific strongholds to the mountainous areas and they were not found," he told the BBC. "They did not manage to neutralise them at all."

The South African added: "There's [civilian] elements here that have physically told the RDF [Rwanda Defence Force] when they came in: 'This is where the FDLR strongholds are, go there and take them out.'

"But now they've come to hear of it, the FDLR has even put out a hit list."

He said the UN peacekeeping force, known as Monuc, had fought off several attacks by hundreds of FDLR militiamen on Pinga.

The village, which lies more than 100km (60 miles) north-west of Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, is particularly vulnerable as it is surrounded by mountains, he added.

One villager told the BBC: "When the Rwandan army was here, the FDLR fled, but when the Rwandans left, the FDLR came back. We feel unsafe again since they are still in the forest."

The BBC's Thomas Fessy in Pinga says there are also plenty of mines around the village, many of them run by the FDLR.

He says is is protected by 170 UN peacekeepers but only 70 troops from the Congolese army.

But another villager said that neighbouring areas were in a far worse situation, as they had no protection at all.

Capt Fuller also said civilians could also be at risk from Congolese government forces, some of whom have not been paid for three months and are not getting adequate rations, according to reports.

"Some of them feel that they are going to pick up arms themselves against the civilian population that they are supposed to protect," he said.

The FDLR's presence in eastern DR Congo has been seen as a major factor in the region's instability since the Rwandan genocide 15 years ago.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2009/04/14 15:19:50 GMT

Congo-Kinshasa: Obasanjo, Mkapa Seek Implemention of Agreements

12 April 2009

Lagos — Former President Olusegun Obasanjo and former Tanzanian President, Benjamin Mkapa have called on leaders in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to ensure they fully implement the region's peace agreements.

In a statement they issued on the DRC peace process, and circulated at the UN headquarters, the former presidents condemned the fresh wave of violence led by newly-formed rebel groups.

The UN correspondent of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Obasanjo and Mkapa are the UN and AU special envoys to the DRC respectively.

Obasanjo and Mkapa, however, called on leaders in the country "to support peace and take steps to implement agreed-on measures to improve stability in the volatile North and South Kivu regions in eastern DR Congo".

They stated: "Rapid and faithful implementation is key to success, and (we) urge them (the leaders) to fully implement the agreements, in accordance with their stated commitments and agreed timetable".

They urged stakeholders to ensure that "these agreements are not used as pretext for the emergence of new armed groups in the Kivus".

According to Obasanjo and Mkapa, "after years of conflict and humanitarian crisis, the region is now yearning for peace, and the international community is expecting full implementation of the agreements".

The former presidents expressed satisfaction that some internally displaced persons were starting to return to their homes, but regretted that some new displacements have taken place in areas where military operations were ongoing.

The special envoys also commended the initiative taken by regional leaders on the DRC crisis and further expressed gratitude to Nigeria for its generous contributions and support to the process.

Obasanjo and Mkapa had last Wednesday briefed Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki, in his capacity as the Chairman of the Internatio-nal Conference on the Great Lakes Regions (ICGLR).

The briefing followed the signing of the peace agreements between the DRC government, the National Congress for People's Defence (CNDP) and other armed groups in the Kivus.

Meanwhile, Alan Doss, the UN Special Representative for the DRC, has warned that in spite of a signed peace accord, rebel violence continues.

Doss gave the warning in a recent report he presented to the UN Security Council.

He stated: "While the rebel National Congress for People's Defence has signed a peace accord with the government of Congo, the Ugandan rebel group Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) and others continue to wage violent attacks in the volatile east of the country".

The UN official said the LRA has continued to abduct children as soldiers and wage "gruesome reprisal attacks that have forced an estimated 200,000 people to leave their homes".

"The LRA has dispersed into small groups, who have sown terror and taken revenge by looting, raping, maiming, abducting and killing civilians in a vast area stretching from northern Ituri to the eastern part of the Central African Republic," Doss said.

Congo-Kinshasa: Attacks Against Aid Workers On the Rise

10 April 2009

Kinshasa — Attacks against aid workers and their convoys have increased in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo since the start of the year, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Meanwhile, civilians continue to bear the brunt of violence meted out by various armed groups and the national army, according to aid agencies and advocacy groups.

"On average, there are 11 attacks against humanitarian workers per month, roughly one incident every three days," said OCHA spokesman Nestor Yombo.

There was a 22 percent increase in such attacks in the first quarter of 2009 compared to the same period in 2008, he said.

Violent attacks, such as armed robberies on offices and private homes, are particularly prevalent in Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, where many NGOs have their regional headquarters.

Beyond rural areas, attacks tend to target humanitarian convoys travelling without armed escorts.

Armed groups of various stripes, both domestic and foreign, are still active in eastern DRC, despite a military operation conducted jointly by the DRC and Rwandan armies to neutralise a Rwandan armed group present in the region for more than a decade.

Attacks against civilians have also increased, notably in the second half of March, and in areas such as Lubero, Masisi and Walikale in North Kivu and Kalehe in South Kivu, according to Human Rights Watch.

"Rwandan rebel forces, government army soldiers, and their allies have raped at least 90 women and girls since late January 2009 in the volatile North and South Kivu provinces of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, the Rwandan rebel forces have also been implicated in the deaths of most of the 180 civilians killed during this period," said Anneke Van Woudenberg, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch.

Since the DRC-Rwandan operation began in January, some 250,000 civilians have been put to flight. Many of them had already been displaced on several occasions over recent years.

Oxfam has warned that a severe humanitarian crisis is unfolding in the region.

"The war is far from over for ordinary Congolese. These terrible human tragedies are happening in remote areas far away from television cameras, but this does not make the suffering less real for those concerned," Marcel Stoessel, Head of Oxfam in the Democratic Republic of Congo said.

"Homes and shops are being looted and ransacked, women and girls are being raped, and civilians are being forced to flee, many for the third or fourth time. We are helping them pick up the pieces by increasing our emergency work. It is tragic to see Congo's civilians caught up in this awful violence yet again," he added.

This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the Pan-African News Wire

Catholic Information Service for Africa (Nairobi)

Congo-Kinshasa: Rebels, State Army Accused of Rapes And Killing

9 April 2009

Rwandan rebel forces, government soldiers, and their allies have raped at least 90 women and girls since late January in the volatile North and South Kivu provinces of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, an international human rights organisation says.

In a statement on Thursday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the Rwandan rebel forces have also been implicated in the deaths of most of the 180 civilians killed during this period.

The United Nations Security Council was set to discuss on Thursday the latest report by the UN secretary-general on the peacekeeping force in Congo. HRW called on the Security Council to press the Congolese government to remove human rights abusers from its armed forces.

The Rwandan Hutu militia, called the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), attacked villages and towns in Masisi and Lubero territories (North Kivu) as well as in Kalehe (South Kivu) in recent weeks, committing numerous killings, rapes and looting.

According to witnesses and victims interviewed by HRW, the FDLR have been implicated in the killings of at least 154 civilians since January 23.

"The FDLR are deliberately killing and raping Congolese civilians as apparent punishment for the military operations against them," said Anneke Van Woudenberg, HRW senior Africa researcher. "Both the fighters who commit such horrific acts and the rebel commanders who permit them are responsible for war crimes."

The FDLR were temporarily pushed out of their military positions in January and February 2009 following a joint military operation by Congolese and Rwandan troops on January 20. Following the withdrawal of Rwandan forces on February 24, military action diminished and the FDLR reoccupied many of their previous positions.

Most recently, at least seven civilians were killed and 24 others wounded during FDLR attacks in Beni and Walikale in early April. On March 20, 2009, the FDLR attacked Buhuli, North Kivu, and four other nearby villages, killing at least five civilians. On February 13, the FDLR attacked Kipopo, killing at least 13 people.

The Congolese army has also been implicated in numerous rapes. In March, Congolese soldiers raped at least 21 women and girls in southern Masisi and northern Kalehe territories, HRW said.

According to the UN, an estimated 250,000 people have fled their homes in eastern Congo since January, adding to hundreds of thousands of others who fled earlier waves of violence.

"Protection of civilians can only be taken seriously if known human rights abusers are removed from the ranks of the Congolese army," said Van Woudenberg.

Congo-Kinshasa: Top UN Official Signals Improvement, Tough Challenges in East

9 April 2009

Although a nascent peace process has led to a "sea change" in the strife-torn eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a top United Nations official said today cautioned that challenges - including rebel groups continuing to wreak havoc in the region - remain.

Alan Doss, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for the DRC, told the Security Council today that the "remarkable turnaround" came when the mainly Tutsi rebel militia, known as the National Congress for People's Defence (CNDP), and other armed groups declared an end to the violent conflict which had displaced some 250,000 people last year in the volatile North and South Kivu provinces.

Last month, the Government and the CNDP signed a peace accord, with the UN and African Union (AU) envoys who facilitated that deal calling today on the international community to continue its support of efforts to consolidate peace and promote development.

In his briefing to the Council today, Mr. Doss also attributed the easing of hostilities in the region to improved relations between the DRC and neighbouring Rwanda, commending the two Governments "for their courageous decision to overcome their previous distrust and to focus on common interests of the future."

But the threat of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), the Ugandan group known notorious for abducting children as soldiers and sex slaves, must be contained, he stressed, with some 1,100 people having been killed by the rebels between December 2009 and January 2009, hundreds abducted and 200,000 uprooted by the violence.

That group has launched "gruesome reprisal attacks" in the wake of the joint military operation between DRC forces (FARDC), Ugandan troops (UPDF) and Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) aimed at flushing the rebels out of the region, the envoy, who also heads the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC (MONUC), said.

"The LRA has dispersed into small groups, who have sown terror and taken revenge by looting, raping, maiming, abducting and killing civilians in a vast area stretching from northern Ituri to the eastern part of the Central African Republic," said Mr. Doss.

Another major challenge facing DRC and the UN mission, he said, is the integration of former militiamen into the FARDC. Although most elements of the CNDP and other armed groups have been registered, payments of salaries have been delayed and the provision of food and ammunition for troops fighting the rebel Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) ¬- the target of recent joint operations conducted by Rwanda and DRC - have been late to arrive.

The Special Representative also underscored to the 15-member Council the need to continue military pressure against the 4,500-strong FDLR.

"Such pressure has been instrumental in the surrender and voluntary return of combatants and dependents to Rwanda," he stressed, estimating that close to 7,000 Rwandans have returned home as a result of the joint FARDC-Rwandan Defence Forces (RDF) operation.

Mr. Doss warned that "if the Kivus continue to struggle with mass poverty, unemployment, and derelict infrastructures, new escalations of violence may emanate from the underlying tensions between ethnic communities."

The armed groups of North and South Kivu declaration that some 47,000 combatants were among their ranks may be an exaggeration, but he said that it indicated how many unemployed youth need to be put to work to avoid the risk of re-mobilization and underlined the importance of economic recovery in mitigating ethnic tensions.

Today's open meeting wrapped up with the Council commending "the improvement of the relationship among the countries of the region," encouraging them to "continue reinforcing their political, military and economic cooperation to guarantee the long-term stabilization of the Great Lakes region," according to a press statement read out by Ambassador Claude Heller of Mexico, which holds the body's rotating monthly presidency.

Welcoming last month's peace accord, the Council also welcomed the progress made so far in the disarmament, demobilization, repatriation, resettlement and reintegration (DDRRR) programme, calling on those FDLR forces which have not taken part to do so.

In today's statement, the body also voiced its grave concern about the ongoing uprooting of civilians and massive violations of human rights, especially of reports of widespread sexual violence and continued recruitment of children into armed groups, calling for an end to impunity for the perpetrators.

In a joint statement today, Olusegun Obasanjo and Benjamin Mkapa, the UN and AU Special Envoys for the Great Lakes Region, praised the courage of signatories of last month's accord, reminding the parties that "rapid and faithful implementation is key to success, and urged them to fully implement the agreements, in accordance with their stated commitments and agreed timetable."

Further, the envoys urged all involved that "these agreements are not used as a pretext for the emergence of new armed groups in the Kivus."

A new wave of clashes has forced 30,000 people from their homes, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Fighting broke out on 31 March when a group calling itself the Popular Front for Justice in the Congo (FPJC) attacked villages in the Ituri district, also in eastern DRC. A few days later, the self-styled Revolutionary Front for Peace in the Ituri (FPRI), which refused to take part in the UN-AU peace talks and has been blamed for major human rights violations, launched a counter-attack in the area.

In today's statement, the Special Envoys expressed concern over the new displacements, but said that they are confident that "improved relations of good neighbourliness and cooperation between the DRC and Rwanda will bode well for the future peace and development of the entire Great Lakes Region."

They also stressed that "after years of conflict and humanitarian crisis, the region is now yearning for peace, and that the international community is expecting full implementation of the agreements."

UN complains of Congo troop delay

The UN force chief in the Democratic Republic of Congo has complained there is still no sign of 3,000 peacekeepers approved by the UN five months ago.

Alan Doss told the BBC his force was overstretched and unable to respond effectively to outbreaks of violence.

He said he needed the extra troops to deploy against a Rwandan Hutu militia and the Ugandan Lord's Resistance Army.

Meanwhile, the UN said fighting by other rival militias in Ituri province had displaced 30,000 people.

Eastern DR Congo saw intense fighting between Congolese rebels and government forces late last year.

The 17,000-strong UN mission, known as Monuc, was placed under strain during the major offensive in North Kivu province, which forced 100,000 civilians to flee.

In November, the UN security Council authorised the deployment of an extra 3,000 troops to the region.

Mr Doss said there had been an improvement in the situation in the east of the country following a five-week joint military operation launched in January between the forces of Rwanda and DR Congo.

The campaign led to the arrest of the leader of the rebel National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), and the surrender of many fighters.

They said they were fighting to protect the Tutsi community from attacks by Rwandan Hutu rebels based in DR Congo.

"The less good news is that operations are still ongoing and will have to continue for some time against the ex-genocidal forces, the so-called FDLR, the ex-Interahamwe. That's a big job," he said.

The FDLR's (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda) presence in DR Congo lies behind years of unrest in the region and some of its leaders are linked to the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Terrible things'

Mr Doss said he wanted to send the extra troops to restive Ituri province and to South Kivu, where FDLR fighters have been operating.

The Welshman said he also needed to send additional forces to Haut-Uele province, where Ugandan rebels were "doing terrible things".

The LRA has killed hundreds of civilians in the north-east of DR Congo since going on the rampage in the region last Christmas.

"We are stretched and the additional 3,000 will also enable us to create a force reserve so that when a situation erupts as it did last September and October, we had no reserves," Mr Doss said.

"It is true that we have a mandate to protect but within the limits that we know, we can't be everywhere all of the time and this is a serious concern for us," he added.

UN officials have often said their peacekeepers are thinly stretched over a country the size of western Europe.

In the north-east of DR Congo, the UN's refugee agency said fighting between the Popular Front for Justice in the Congo and the Revolutionary Front for Peace in Ituri had displaced thousands of people.

It said they had no food or shelter. Many had only recently returned to their homes, after fleeing earlier attacks.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2009/04/08 15:08:39 GMT

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