Misery in Democratic Republic of Congo set to continue

Other News Materials 19 December 2008 09:18 (UTC +04:00)

Hopes for lasting peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where a five-year war resulted in the deaths of over 5 million people, dimmed in 2008 as simmering tensions in the east boiled over into armed conflict, dpa reported.

Fighting between rebel Tutsi general Laurent Nkunda's National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) and government troops exploded in October after beginning to ramp up in August.

The CNDP, made up of around 5,000 well-organized and battle-hardened soldiers, routed the shambolic Congolese army and came within a whisker of taking the city of Goma, the capital of the eastern North Kivu province.

Over 250,000 civilians have been displaced as a result of the fresh clashes, and there have been reports that all combatants have been murdering and raping civilians and going on looting sprees.

Aide agencies say there are now over one million displaced in the region and are warning that unless a solution is found soon a humanitarian catastrophe will unfold.

Diplomatic efforts are underway to resolve the conflict, but fears remain that the 1998-2003 war, which sucked in many other African nations, could be reignited.

"In the absence of a serious push for a political solution to the crisis by the international community - and the UN Security Council in particular - the situation could quickly spiral out of control," conflict watchdog International Crisis Group (ICG) said in a submission to the UN Security Council at the end of November.

"The only way out of the crisis is a coherent political strategy, implemented through consistent and concerted help from the Security Council and influential member-states from the region," it continued.

Nkunda's forces were supposed to be integrated into the Congolese army after the end of the war, but the general refused to report to Kinshasa, saying the government was incompetent and unwilling to help him battle Hutu militia.

The general says he is fighting to protect Tutsis from the Hutu Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).

The FLDR contains Hutu militia who fled to DR Congo from Rwanda in 1994 after being involved in the massacre of 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

Nkunda say war will continue unless the Kinshasa government talks to him, but President Joseph Kabila has so far refused to meet. Kinshasa says that Rwanda is supporting Nkunda, while Nkunda claims the government is working with the FDLR.

UN peace envoy and former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo is trying to broker talks and has succeeded in getting Nkunda to agree to a ceasefire. But fighting has continued despite Nkunda's promises.

Most recently the CNDP has been fighting the pro-government Mai Mai militia and has seized several towns near the border with Uganda, sending another 15,000 people fleeing across the frontier.

The ICG wants to see all militias disarmed and proxy support, either from Kinshasa to the FDLR or Kigali to the CNDP, ended through strong political engagement and tough action from the UN peacekeeping mission in DR Congo (MONUC).

However, even with the UN promising an extra 3,000 troops to bolster the 17,000-strong MONUC force, doubts remain whether it is strong enough to take the necessary action.

Many believe that getting the militia to stop fighting will prove difficult as long as there is the incentive of profits to be made from illegal exploitation of natural resources.

Bodies such as Global Witness, which monitors the links between human rights' abuses and exploitation of natural resources, say that all of the armed groups, including the Congolese army, are raking in cash from illegally mining tin, gold and coltan.

All of the groups funnel the minerals they mine through middlemen. Much of the coltan ends up on the Asian markets for use in electronic products.

Global Witness says that the conflict will continue to be fueled as long as companies do not check the source of the minerals they buy.

"As long as there are buyers who are willing to trade, directly or indirectly, with groups responsible for grave human rights abuses, there is no incentive for these groups to lay down their arms," Global Witness Director Patrick Alley said in a recent report on the conflict.