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While conducting a humanitarian assessment with Refugees International, I spoke with an eighty-year-old woman who had recently fled violent reprisal killings near the village of Lukweti in Masisi territory. In December of last year, when a local self-defense force, defeated a Congolese army unit primarily made up of former members of the Laurent Nkunda’s CNDP rebel group, the soldiers turned on the local population. Though the woman I spoke with managed to escape by hiding under banana leaves, her entire family was massacred by the former CNDP rebels, along with dozens of her neighbors.
Officially, the first phase of Congolese army operations aimed at stabilizing the Kivus by targeting the Rwandan FDLR rebel group ended in December. The new phase, “Amani Leo” -- which means “Peace Today” -- is backed by the UN peacekeeping mission in the DR Congo (MONUC) and only began this month. Nevertheless, accounts of major combat and human rights violations such as those I heard about in Masisi continued to circulate during this supposed lull.
Most Congolese and international analysts in Goma believe that the CNDP, which continues to run a parallel administration in Masisi territory and whose soldiers were never fully integrated into the Congolese army, is trying to clear out the entire region north of Lukweti in order to take control of plush grazing land for cattle. Other observers defend that that the CNDP may also be preparing this zone to settle migrants from Rwanda who have recently crossed into the Congo claiming to be Tutsi refugees returning from the UN camps. However, in one locality we visited, over half of the roughly five thousand new arrivals were reported to be Hutus, thus excluding the possibility that they were former refugees.
The FDLR continues to be the supposed target of the Congolese army’s latest UN-supported operations. Yet, when we arrived in the town of Kingi, we were told by a local trader that a CNDP Colonel now in the Congolese army had just come to negotiate the sharing of charcoal profits with the Rwandan rebels.
The expansion of CNDP control throughout Masisi and Rutshuru territories, and the concurrent manipulation of population dynamics before local elections, is dangerously laying the groundwork for another potential cycle of resentment and violence. One local self-defense force is already using the widespread fear of this growing Rwandan domination in Masisi to swell its ranks with young men hoping to protect their ethnic homelands.
Current debates about MONUC’s drawdown should include questions about how to enhance its leverage to ensure that military operations not only respect human rights, but also lead to lasting stability in the Kivus. The mission’s recent policy to provide logistical provisions only for respectable military units and only when conducting targeted operations is to be applauded. But the UN cannot stop a Congolese army operation from going forward even if it disagrees with the objectives proposed.
Of course, the CNDP would prefer that the UN keeps its noses out of their business all together. In a visit to Rubaya, a lucrative trading post for minerals, CNDP authorities were very adamant about their desire to see MONUC leave the Congo as soon as possible, a message currently echoed in Kinshasa.
The CNDP’s ideal scenario is unobstructed control over land, populations, and local economies. A North Kivu completely absent of a robust international presence would be an even greater guarantee of this, something the UN Security Council might want to take note of.
Steve Hege has conducted two field missions to the DR Congo as a consultant with Refugees International and has previously worked in the Congo with both NGOs and the UN for several years.March 24, 2010 | Tagged as: DR Congo, United Nations, Humanitarian Response