Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire)
August 31, 2012: Several international organizations have suggested that a peacekeeping force composed of African Union (AU) nations deploy into the eastern Congo. UN officials in Africa began discussing it publicly late last year but the idea has circulated in the diplomatic community for several years. The concept of an African peacekeeping brigade of some sort has bounced around at least since the 1970s. The code phrase for the Congo is deploying a neutral regional force, or some variation. The AU would likely sponsor the force, if it is organized, and the UN might sponsor it as well. Critics point out that the UN peacekeeping force is an international force. They point that out not to criticize the AU but to note that the UN is losing interest in the Congo and its intractable problems. That is the dirty little public secret about the UN Stabilization Force in the Congo (MONUSCO) operation. MONUSCO still deploys around 20,000 personnel (soldiers, police, administrators, etc.) in the Congo but UN members are frustrated and are tired of paying the bill. The diplomats reply that a regional force would bring a regional political commitment to stopping the chaos and bloodletting in the eastern Congo. That political commitment ought to translate into regional efforts to stop the smuggling of minerals and weapons that help finance the various militias and gangs operating in the eastern Congo. In early August the defense ministers of Burundi, Republic of Congo (Brazzaville), Rwanda, Angola, Tanzania, and Uganda met with the Congolese defense minister and discussed the idea of creating an African regional force for policing the eastern Congo, and there was interest in creating the force.
However, Rwanda and also Uganda have been accused of supporting various rebel groups in the eastern Congo, including the M23 Movement which still controls a large chunk of territory in the Congo’s North Kivu province, including a strip near the Ugandan border. The UN’s Group of Experts on the Congo (GoE Congo) has accused Rwanda of providing M23 with material and financial support. Rwanda denies the accusation. However, many of the M23 rebels were associated with Laurent Nkunda’s CNDP (National Congress for the Defense of the People) militia. Rwanda supported the CNDP until January 2009. The CNDP was regarded as a Congolese Tutsi militia. The M23 Movement takes its name from March 23, 2009, the date M23 the 2009 peace agreement that was signed. The agreement was supposed to end the war and chaos in the eastern Congo. It promised rebel groups that they would have political rights and various economic opportunities. M23 rebels contend that the government has violated the peace agreement. M23 began operations in April 2012. (Austin Bay)
August 24, 2012: MONUSCO now has around 4,000 peacekeeping troops deployed in the northeastern Congo. The last thing Congo needs is more ethnic strife, but Congo’s northeastern Ituri district is once again experiencing ethnic tensions that include echoes of tribal separatism. The FRPI (Patriotic Resistance Front in Ituri) militia group now controls an area around Lake Albert (about 100 kilometers south of Ituri’s capital, Bunia). The FRPI claims that it has formed an alliance with the PFDDI (Popular Front for Durable Development in Ituri), the RAF (Revolutionary Armed Forces) militia, and the IAFI (Integrated Armed Forces of Ituri). Allegedly the alliance wants the Congolese government to make Ituri a province. Ituri, as Kibali-Ituri, was a Congolese province from 1962 to 1966. It is now governed by the Ituri Interim Administration as part of Congo’s Orientale province.
August 21, 2012: The government responded to critics who argue that Zimbabwe should not be allowed to deploy peacekeeping troops in the Congo. The government said that Zimbabwean troops contributed to stability when they deployed into the Congo during the Great Congo War. Others remember Zimbabwean participation quite differently. The Zimbabwean forces reportedly committed many atrocities and plundered Congolese mineral resources. Zimbabwe sent troops to the Congo in 1998, and only withdrew them in 2001. A UN study found evidence that Zimbabwean Army officers and senior members of Zimbabwe’s governing ZANU-PF party made money by selling and smuggling Congolese resources. It is also argued that Angola should not be allowed to participate in an AU sponsored peacekeeping force that may deploy into the eastern Congo. Angolan and Namibian forces also intervened in 1998. The Zimbabwean, Angolan, and Namibian forces are sometimes referred to as the SADC (Southern African Development Community) contingent in the Great Congo War, or the SADC Alliance. At the time Zimbabwe’s dictator, Robert Mugabe, justified sending troops because he contended the Uganda and Rwanda had invaded the Congo. In 2009, the Angolan government stated that SADC’s Standby Brigade was ready to intervene in the Congo, if asked. SADC has 15 members, Malawi, Angola, Congo, The Republic of Congo, South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Mauritius, Lesotho, Mozambique, Madagascar, Swaziland, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and the Seychelles. (Austin Bay)
August 19, 2012: The stand-off with the M23 rebel group continues in the Bunagana area. Since the beginning of the month, a tentative ceasefire has been arranged between the Congolese Army and the M23 fighters but the government believes that the M23 militia is reorganizing and preparing for another round of fighting.
August 18, 2012: The Congo is a topic at the Southern African Development Community (SADC) annual summit. The South African government told the summit that Rwanda must end its support for Congolese rebels in the eastern Congo. South Africa was referring to UN and Congolese accusations that Rwanda supports the M23 rebel movement.
August 15, 2012: The Rwandan government said that the UN Group of Experts on the Congo is acting in bad faith. Rwanda contended the UN report was filled with inaccuracies. Rwanda contended that it has not supplied M23 with weapons and that M23 has access to weapons (including heavy weapons, like multiple rocket launchers) that were seized in 2008, by the CNDP militia and then hidden. The government accused one member of the UN study group of having a benign view of radical Hutu organizations like the FDLR and had published an article that described the FDLR as victims of the Rwandan Tutsi government. Essentially, Rwanda claimed that the UN study exhibited an anti-Tutsi tribal bias. Welcome to African politics and political interpretation.
August 9, 2012: The government rejected calls for negotiations with the M23 rebel group and said that it will not negotiate with the rebels. It still considers the rebels to be mutineers from the Congolese Army (FARDC). The government also said that it would not support any peacekeeping force in the eastern Congo that included Rwandan troops. The government prefers UN peacekeepers and it wants UN forces to take a more active role in confronting M23.
August 2, 2012: The UN Security Council stated that foreign nations must end their support for Congolese rebels, specifically the M23 rebel group. Essentially the UN condemned Rwanda without naming Rwanda.
August 1, 2012: M23 is getting the headlines but the FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda) is still operating in the eastern Congo. The FDLR is primarily a Rwandan Hutu tribal force and has ties to the Hutu radicals who instigated the 1994 genocide. In many ways the Hutu-Tutsi struggle in Rwanda is continuing in the eastern Congo. Though Rwanda now stands accused of supporting the M23 rebels, the Congolese government has let Rwandan Army units track and pursue FDLR rebels in the eastern Congo. Rwanda and Congo have coordinated military operations against the FDLR.
July 25, 2012: The UN is seeking more support for the Congolese Army. Congolese soldiers report that they are not receiving their pay, that they are under-paid when they do, and that their living conditions are poor. All of that is true. The request may help have a political angle. Improving Congolese Army conditions would make it less likely that Congolese soldiers would rebel and join various rebel militia groups still operating in the eastern Congo.
July 24, 2012: The army fought with M23 rebel forces in and around the town of Kibumba and Rugari (North Kivu province, eastern Congo). The two towns are north of the provincial capital, Goma. UN forces employed helicopter gunships in the battle. The UN also estimated that at least 260,000 Congolese have fled their homes since April in order to escape M23 fighters. Rebels and government forces traded heavy weapons fire around two eastern villages on Friday, forcing thousands of civilians to flee towards the provincial capital days ahead of a regional summit due to tackle the rebellion.
July 22, 2012: The Rwandan government denied accusations that it is supporting the M23 rebel movement in the Congo.
July 20, 2012: M23 is solidifying its control of the town of Bunagana (Uganda-Congo border) and a strip of territory west of the town (Congolese side). M23 also controls the Runyonyi and Jomba areas. The Congolese government stated that it believes M23 intends to attack North Kivu’s capital, Goma.