Congo: Ghosts That Kill

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June 30, 2017: In northeastern Congo near the South Sudan border the Ugandan LRA (Lords Resistance Army) revealed that it is not quite gone just yet, even though Uganda considers this rebel group defunct. LRA bands have apparently conducted several raids (for supplies, loot and slaves) in this remote border area. One attack, however, was quite significant. On June 7 some LRA rebels attacked a mining area near the Garamba National Park (Haut-Uele province) and kidnapped 61 people. The LRA released the captives after forcing them to help carry loot away from the area. There are also reports that LRA fighters are poaching elephants in the national park. The Regional Task Force (RTF) dedicated to destroying the LRA was disbanded earlier in 2017. At first it was thought these reports of LRA rebels were local bandits trying to hide their identity and scare local police. The LRA has a more fearsome reputation than any other armed group in this part of the world. Further investigation revealed details of these raiders and they apparently are one of the lost remnants of the LRA. This group of Ugandan tribal rebels first showed up in Congo back in mid-2005. Peacekeepers (Nepalese) were sent to verify the reports (which Uganda doubted) and it was discovered that some LRA passed through Congo on their way to Sudan, where they had some government support. By the end of 2005 there was evidence that several hundred LRA rebels were in Congo and so began over a decade of military and police operations to keep these foreign marauders out. Like so many other rebel groups in this part of the world, LRA evolved into a name for a bandit gang. Sort of a “brand” that assists in recruiting and maintaining a scary image. There’s a lot of that going on in eastern Congo these days.

June 29, 2017: In southwest Congo gunfire was heard in the capital (Kinshasa) that triggered a security alert because the gunfire was apparently in the vicinity of a jail. There have been many attacks on jails recently, usually to release specific prisoners and these attacks often turn everyone loose and are a continuing embarrassment for the government. This alert was apparently a false alarm. There’s a lot of crime in Kinshasa that involves guns but that is only news if the shooting is near a newsworthy location (like a heavily guarded government building or mansion belonging to a politician).

June 27, 2017: In the southwest, across the Congo River on the west bank is the other, smaller, nation also called Congo where another group of extinct rebels is active again. This other Congo is often called Congo (Brazzaville) after the name of its capital, which is located near the same part of the Congo River that Kinshasa, the capital of the larger Congo is located on the east bank. Now the UN is seeking emergency funding to provide assistance for refugees fleeing violence in the Pool region of Congo (Brazzaville). At least 80,000 have fled Congo (Brazzaville) since the government there launched a military offensive in the thickly forested region (nicknamed "the pool") southwest of Brazzaville. The government claims it is attempting to stop a new insurgency by followers of 1990s rebel leader Pastor Ntumi. For over a decade the Brazzaville government has had to deal with renewed fighting by pool based rebels who were supposed to have been part of the peace deal for a civil war that officially ended in 2003. Most of the continued problems have been in the Pool which was the center of the “ninja rebellion” during the civil war. The “ninjas” officially fought as an anti-government militia from 1998 to 2003, ignoring the truce of 1999. For the pool based rebels the 2003 peace deal was very tentative. Since 2003 reports of “ninja bandit attacks” continued to appear despite the “disarmament and reintegration” program that bought back rebel weapons and offered other benefits to rebels who accepted the amnesty. Most rebels had done so by 2009. Yet the Pool continues to boil over occasionally reminding everyone living or travelling through the area that the “ninjas” are still active.

June 26, 2017: Diplomats in central Africa, Europe and North America are welcoming Angola’s intensifying criticism of Congolese president Joseph Kabila. The Angolan government was once a staunch Kabila ally. However, Angola is now taking steps to politically isolate Kabila. Angola is Congo’s largest and most populous neighbor. Now this southern neighbor openly agrees that the current Congo leader still occupies the office of president, but he does so illegally. He was supposed to leave office in December 2016 but didn’t. Instead, he stymied attempts to hold a national election. This unconstitutional action risks reigniting Congo’s civil war which is something Angola does not want. The first indication that Angolan policy was changing came in December 2016 when Angola decided to withdraw Angolan military trainers aiding the Congolese Army. Fighting in near the border in Congo’s Kasai region has also sent a surge of refugees into Angola because, as the Angolans see it, the current Congo government has completely mismanaged the situation in Kasai. So far the fighting in Kasai has displaced an estimated 1.3 million people. Angola also supports demands for an international inquiry into the murder of two UN investigators in the Kasai region. The Congo leadership is adamantly opposed to an international inquiry.

June 25, 2017: In eastern Congo (North Kivu province) a new round of firefights broke out between soldiers and a Mai-Mai militia in North Kivu province. Two soldiers and four militiamen died in the firefights. The army claimed the militia attacked its position near the city of Kaseghe (population 150,000) which is adjacent to the Beni area where clashes between the government and militias have occurred for over a year.

June 22, 2017: In eastern Congo (North Kivu province) at least 12 people were killed in an intense firefight between the soldiers and a militia group near the city of Beni. The militia group calls itself the National Movement of Revolutionaries (MNR) and the government claims the militias in Beni are really anti-Kabila rebels. The militia claims it is a local defense organization but its name suggests something more.

June 21, 2017: The UN confirmed that the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville) will withdraw its 650 soldiers serving as peacekeepers in the Central African Republic (CAR). Many Congo-Brazzaville soldiers have been accused of sexual exploitation and abuse. The UN statement discreetly referred to "systemic problems in command and control" involving the Congo contingent.

June 20, 2017: In Congo the Catholic Church released a report that 3,383 people have been killed in southwest Congo (Kasai) since October 2016. The Church’s report called the killings “brutal” and claimed that they were committed by the army, the pro-government Bana Mura militia and the rebel Kamuina Nsapu militia. The report did not say how the statistics were compiled but the Catholic Church has a presence throughout the country and is widely respected by Congolese citizens.

In CAR (Central African Republic) battles between a Christian anti-balaka (anti-machete) militia and a faction of the old Seleka rebel group erupted in the town of Bria. At least 100 people were killed and several dozen were wounded. Foreign aid workers operating in reported that the situation remains dangerous and confused. The battles erupted the day after a supposed peace agreement was signed in Italy by 13 of the CAR’s 14 major armed groups. The Seleka movement was a predominantly Moslem movement that often used machetes to kill Christian civilians.

June 16, 2017: Many veteran UN officials and African leaders agree that Congo’s instability has become an acute political crisis that could trigger a renewed civil war in the Congo that would destabilize the whole of central Africa.

June 15, 2027: In Burundi security forces and pro-government militias are continuing to torture and kill opponents of the unpopular president. The government denies the allegations if such bad behavior.

June 12, 2017: In eastern Congo (North Kivu province) gunmen attacked the Kangbayi prison in the city of Beni and freed an estimated 900 prisoners. Local journalists claimed the Ugandan rebel Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) conducted the attack. Others suspect a local militia group.

June 9, 2017: The UN is calling for an international inquiry into the massacres in southwest Congo (Kasai). So far 42 mass graves have been found in the area. The Congo government is opposed to any kind of inquiry. The death toll estimate in May 2017 was “over 600” but that looks to be low. The conflict erupted in August 2016 when government forces killed a traditional local chief, Jean-Pierre Mpandi, who objected to government interference and called on locals to resist it. The government had appointed individuals (supporters of president Kabila) from outside the region to local government posts. The locals complained that those posts were for local leaders. That’s why the Kamuina Nsapu militia accused Kabila and his government of seeking “unjust political domination” in the Kasai region.

In Uganda the government revealed that a tribal feud over land flared up again with an attack on a village in an area where there has been growing violence between members of the Acholi and Madi tribes. This attack was directed at a village called Juka where most of the people are Acholi. About a hundred homes were burned down and four people were killed plus 21 wounded. The Madi attackers were armed with spears, machetes and bows and arrows.

June 6, 2017: The UN peacekeeper commander in the CAR has asked the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville) soldiers be withdrawn. The Republic of Congo soldiers are accused of numerous crimes, to include sexual abuse and fuel theft.

In Burundi the government insisted that Burundian soldiers serving as peacekeepers in Somalia will receive their salaries. The soldiers have gone unpaid for a year. The EU (European Union) provided pay six months’ worth of salaries but refused further payments as a way to bring pressure on the Burundian government. At first Burundi threatened to withdraw its troops from Somalia but as news the corruption scandal spread the government changed its mind. Stealing pay and other money provided by the UN for peacekeepers is not an unusual even with African contingents.

The Republic of Congo (Brazzaville) has convicted and sentenced Daring Dissaka, one of Africa’s most wanted elephant poachers and ivory smugglers to jail for five years. Dissaka ran a criminal organization called the Daring Network. He was indicted earlier this year and arrested in May. The investigation that caught him was led by Congo-Brazzaville’s Wildlife Crime Unit (WCU) which had been tracking Dissaka since late 2016.

 

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