Congo: No Quiet On The Eastern Front

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Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire)

August 4, 2008: The latest death toll estimates in the Congo, since 1998 when conflict gripped virtually the entire country, is over 5.4 million people. Remember, starvation and disease have been the biggest killers, often starvation and disease brought on by "exposure" – that is, people fleeing their homes and seeking refuge. The refugee camps (displaced persons camps) are an iffy proposition, since they were major targets during the height of the war and continue to be targets for the armed militias still operating in eastern Congo. The Congolese Army has also been involved in some of the raids on the camps.

August 1, 2008: The government is airlifting emergency loads of weapons and ammunition to Goma. This began in mid-July – possibly July 19, right after the Kinshasha government's amnesty offer. Apparently General Laurent Nkunda has been seeking recruits in Rwanda and Burundi. These would be (presumably, but not necessarily) Tutsi recruits. Given July's string of political accusations against Nkunda, his forces are the likely target of the Congolese build-up.

July 31, 2008: Some 67 members of the FDLR turned themselves in to UN forces in the town of Kasiki (North Kivu province). They also turned in 45 weapons.

July 27, 2008: Despite the January 2008 ceasefire agreement (Goma Acts) the situation in North and South Kivu provinces remains perilous. UN observers are conducting yet another assessment of the ceasefire and the overall "security and stabilization plan." That plan includes new roads but the projects are already behind schedule. The UN reported three major firefights erupted in South Kivu province. Militias are reportedly once again "recruiting" – which often takes place at gunpoint. Many of the recruits are turned into "bearers" who carry supplies. The official statements are one thing, the unofficial buzz another, and that buzz is that there will be a new flare-up of violence pitting General Laurent Nkunda's Congolese Tutsi CNDP (National Council for the Defense of the People) against the predominantly Hutu FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda). One NGO has called the peace agreement "meaningless" given the violent crimes that continue to be committed against unprotected civilians.

July 24, 2008: Using an International Criminal Court (ICC) warrant, Portuguese security has seized the property of former Congolese Vice-President Jean-Pierre Bemba. The seizure was made after a request by an ICC prosecutor. The seizure included Bemba's house, a yacht, and an airplane. He also had his bank account frozen. Bemba enjoys a great deal of support among many Congolese. He finished second to Congolese President Joseph Kabila in the last election. The ICC warrant has not pleased his supporters. Many believe that Kabila could be indicted for crimes as well.

July 23, 2008: Investigators in Kinshasha claim that $1.3 billion was either embezzled or "lost" (yes, that's the word, "lost") by the government in 2006-7. Understand this is an internal Congo government investigation, which could actually be a positive signal, though a rather timid one. At the moment the investigators say they will ask suspect government officials to "reimburse" the missing money. The suspect officials are in customs and tax departments. Most of the money probably comes from mining concessions – that's what generates big cash in the Congo.

July 21, 2008: The government accused General Laurent Nkunda's CNDP of "summary executions of civilians" and undermining the January 2008 ceasefire agreement.

July 18, 2008: The government said that it would offer amnesty to rebels who had committed crimes in North and South Kivu provinces after 2003 but had signed the January 2008 peace agreement. The Congo's war was supposed to be over in 2003, but militias have continued to operate in the region since then. The amnesty was passed by parliament. The amnesty, however, excludes "genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity." This is a big loophole since a number of militias have attacked unprotected villages, looted them, and committed rape and murder in the process.

July 10, 2008: General Laurent Nkunda is sending mixed signals about rejoining the peace process. He has done this before, claiming he supports the January 2008 Goma accord then engaging in a firefight with the FDLR or Mai-Mai militias. The explanation may be very simple: Nkunda sees no real benefit from making a deal with the Congolese government. He does not trust the government to keep any deal it makes. Of course, the government does not trust Nkunda, who basically controls the western Rutshuru region of North Kivu province. One of the big questions about Nkunda is "where does he get his money?" Usually Rwanda is fingered, but no one is certain.

 

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