Congo: Make Me An Offer

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Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire)

November 25, 2008: Rebel general Laurent Nkunda now proposes that his forces be merged into the Congolese army.

November 23, 2008: Some army troops looted a large refugee camp outside Goma, after a confrontation with UN peacekeepers. As a result of this, refugees threw stones at UN vehicles, protesting the inability of the UN to protect them.

November 22, 2008: Rebel general Laurent Nkunda has 6,000 fighters under arms. This is a strength increase of at least 1000 over figures available earlier this year. Eighteen months ago Nkunda's militia (now called the National Congress for the Defense of the People, or CNDP) had an estimated 4,000 fighters. Figures for the Rwandan Hutu-led FDLR are even murkier, though 3,000 crops up and one source reports 3,500. As for other militias – make a guess. Mai-Mai organizations are little more than bandit gangs. They had a "hard core" cadre. Other fighters come and go. This is why "several thousand" is likely the best estimate for the strength of Mai-Mai militias operating in eastern Congo. Evidence is piling up that the CNDP offensive has scattered the Mai-Mai, which is what usually happens when Mai-Mai militias engage in serious fighting. The FDLR and CNDP have political and tribal agendas. The Mai-Mai have tribal connections and some no doubt have political affiliations, but the comment "they are in it for the banana beer" isn't far from the truth. The Mai-Mai type militias are in it for the pay and the plunder.

November 20, 2008: The situation in eastern Congo remains chaotic – and so do the various reports. Now a Mai-Mai militia officer alleges that UN soldiers are allied with Laurent Nkunda's CNDP. The Mai-Mai said that MONUC forces and fighters from the CNDP fought them in the villages of Katoro and Nyongera (North Kivu province). There is no independent confirmation of the claim and quite a claim it is. The UN peacekeepers usually treat the Mai-Mai as gangs – which they are. Nkunda claims the Mai-Mai in his area are "pro-Congolese government." A subsequent UN report did say that UN soldiers fired at a Mai-Mai militia group in the area after the militiamen fired on a UN patrol. Shooting at Mai-Mai who are shooting at peacekeepers is well within MONUC's rules of engagement in eastern Congo. In fact, MONUC allows its forces to take offensive action against rogue militias.

November 19, 2008: Laurent Nkunda's rebel forces claim they have withdrawn from forward positions near Kanyabayonga and Kiwanja (north of Goma). This is supposed to set the stage for a new round of negotiations. The term "rebel forces" is more accurate than simply saying CNDP fighters. Observers have identified at least one Congolese Tutsi militia that is cooperating with the CNDP but isn't part of the CNDP.

November 18, 2008: November 20, 2008: The UN is considering increasing troop strength in Congo (in the MONUC force) by 3,085 peacekeepers

General Laurent Nkunda said that he will consider a withdrawal from some positions in North Kivu as a demonstration that he is "committed to peace initiatives."

November 17, 2008: Congo President Joseph Kabila appointed a new commander of the Congolese Army (FARDC). General Didier Etumba is now army chief of staff. "Low army morale" following defeats by the CNDP in eastern Congo is one reason the former commander was replaced.

November 16, 2008: Forces loyal to General Laurent Nkunda attacked Congolese Army units in western North Kivu province. Nkunda's forces reportedly took control of the town of Rwindi (130 kilometers north of Goma). A UN observer in Rwindi said that Nkunda's forces had "continued to advance" in the area. The Congolese Army has abandoned a lot of equipment in the area, including light infantry weapons and ammunition. Heavy fighting was reported in the town of Ndeko (100 kilometers north of Goma).

General Laurent Nkunda has let the UN create "a humanitarian corridor" in order to supply and (eventually) move refugees caught in eastern North Kivu province. Nkunda met with a UN negotiating team in the village of Jomba (near the Uganda border).

November 14, 2008: The UN has approximately 6,000 peacekeepers in North Kivu province. Approximately 900 are in and around the city of Goma, the capital of North Kivu.

November 13, 2008: Congolese are telling European reporters that they have seen Zimbabwean and Angolan soldiers in eastern Congo. One unconfirmed report had Angolan troops in the town of Kanyabayonga. The Kabila government regards Angola as a close ally. A week ago one of the "print rumors" mentioned a meeting between the Congolese government and Angola. There was also a report on November 8 of Angolans operating with the Congolese Army near Goma. Again, it was an unconfirmed report, but Angola has provided training assistance to Congolese forces. Sending Angolan advisers to assist Congolese Army commanders isn't unthinkable, it's likely. Zimbabwe supplied the Congolese government with troops during the Great Congo War. In exchange, senior officials in Zimbabwe got to sell trainloads of Congolese minerals. The Zimbabweans were "mineral mercenaries." There are also rumors of Zimbabweans serving with Kabila's presidential guard unit. That could be the case. Like a lot of Third World potentates, Kabila may be "balancing out" his guard unit with a few well-paid foreigners. Locals always have tribal sympathies.

November 12, 2008: The UN is trying to find money and permission from the UN membership for more peacekeepers for the Congo force (MONUC).

November 5, 2008: Angolan military forces are apparently in North Kivu province. It is more likely that Angolan military advisers are operating with Congolese Army units. Angola has provided training assistance to the Congolese Army.

 

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