Congo: Tutsi Rebels Refuse To Surrender

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: Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire)

October 15, 2007: Rebel leader Laurent Nkunda has refused to obey a government ultimatum that he surrender control of his Tutsi militia. Nkunda insists that negotiations continue, and his demands that illegal Hutu militias, led by war criminals who fled neighboring Rwanda a decade ago, be disbanded. The government refuses to negotiate any more, and says it will now use force to disarm Nkunda's men. But Rwanda, run by a Tutsi government, has indicated that it might react violently if Nkunda were harmed. In the 1990s, a Rwandan invasion of eastern Congo triggered the current civil war. The Rwandan Tutsi are the best soldiers in the region, but they are outnumbered by the Congolese army and 17,000 UN peacekeepers.

October 13, 2007: Ituri province has been the scene of some of the worst fighting in the country, with 60,000 people killed since 1999. Most of the dead slain in "militia warfare." Over 500,000 people have been forced to flee their homes. These are big numbers, in and of themselves. However, only four million people live in the province. That means 1.5 percent of the entire population has been killed. In the US that would translate into the deaths of four and half million people. "Militia violence" is a bit misleading. Many "militias" are simply gangs. Some militias, however, are tribal-based. For example, the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) is really a Heam tribal militia. Much of the worst violence has been between the Hema and Lendu tribes. The Hema are cattle-raisers and herders (pastoralists). The Lendu are primarily farmers (agriculturalists). That is an ages old recipe for trouble; the pastoralists complain about the agriculturalists' take-over of their lands, the agriculturalists object to the pastoralists' use of their farms as grazing land. The Hema also consider themselves to be cousins to the Tutsis. The Lendus regard the Hutus as their kin. This "ethnic split" adds another dimension to the fight: the Tutsi-Hutu battles in neighboring Rwanda and the 1994 Tutsi genocide. In 1999, the Hema got a useful ally, the Ugandan Army. The Ugandan military occupied portions of Ituri province, ostensibly as a de facto peacekeeping force. It is worth noting, however, that many Lendu refugees were given sanctuary in Uganda when they fled attacks by the Hema and other militias operating in Ituri. The Gegere, Bira, and Ngiti tribal groups have also deployed tribal forces that are nominally militia groups. In North Kivu province, rebel general Laurent Nkunda claims he is fighting for the rights of Congolese Tutsis, known as the Banyamulenge.

October 11, 2007: The government reported that its troops had engaged Laurent Nkunda's forces in North Kivu province near the town of Mushake. The government report said that Nkunda had received reinforcements in "the battle for Mushake." Nkunda counts the Mai-Mai militia as an ally. It appears Nkunda then launched a counter-attack. The fighting began on October 10. Apparently a Congolese Army brigade moved into the area earlier this week following a declaration on October 8 by Nkunda that the ceasefire negotiated in September had been "abandoned." The UN and the Congo government both said that negotiations are underway to restore the ceasefire in the Mushake area. The Congolese government claimed that 85 rebels had been killed in various operations in North Kivu this week.

October 5, 2007: Several guerrilla groups operating in the eastern Congo seem to have a lot of money, and some of the militias are "well paid," by Congo standards, with militiamen receiving up to $250 a month. This may all be rumor, but there are still a lot of people, countries, and corporations interested in Congolese resources - organizations that could afford to keep a militia on the payroll.

Fighting in North Kivu province had produced 5000 new refugees within the last week.

September 27, 2007: Rebel leader Laurent Nkunda has been again accused of recruiting child soldiers. Nkunda's rebel brigades allegedly raided ten secondary schools and took "children by force." The children are sometimes armed, but frequently they are used to carry supplies like food and ammunition.

 

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