Congo: Another Bad Year

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December 18, 2017: As 2017 ends Congo faces the same problem it faced in 2016: President Joseph Kabila illegally remaining in office. The December Accord of December 31, 2016 (also called the Saint Sylvester agreement) was supposed to create a peaceful political path for Kabila's exit. Congo's Catholic bishops mediated the negotiations that led to the December Accord. New elections were to be held in 2017 -- that was stipulated. Kabila would leave office after the elections and civil war would be avoided. Despite the February 2017 death of opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, the Congolese opposition coalition Rassemblement continued to demand elections in December 2017 and stage occasional national strikes. UN officials in Congo and the Catholic Church supported the coalition's demand for new elections. However, no national elections are occurring in December 2017. Though Rassemblement still confronts him, Kabila remains in office. He has managed to subvert the December Accord just like he subverted the constitution. Meanwhile, the odd tribal and political war in the southwest (the Kasai region) continues. In early December UN officials estimated that the Kasai conflict has displaced 1.4 million people and very few have returned to their homes. The Kasai region, however, isn't the only war zone within Congo. Rogue militias continue to savage eastern Congo (North and South Kivu provinces). Conflicts (plural) have erupted in the southeast (Katanga province) and the Atlantic coast (Bas Congo province). Angola is dealing with refugees from the Kasai region and is increasingly concerned Bas Congo's violence will also spill across borders. In the last six months fighting has erupted in at least ten of Congo's 26 provinces. At the moment these internal wars are discrete. However, the Kasai conflict has an anti-Kabila dimension. At least one tribe in Katanga has accused the Kabila government of exacerbating the conflict. (Austin Bay)

December 16, 2017: In northeastern Congo (Tshopo province) locals report a militia loyal to Thomas Mesandu has taken control of fifteen villages. Mesandu and his fighters staunchly oppose President Joseph Kabila but they also have a reputation for committing theft and rape. Mesandu began taking control of the villages in early October and appears ready to keep control for as long as he can.

December 14, 2017: A Congolese court has sentenced 11 militiamen to life in prison for raping 37 girls (18 months to 12 years old) in South Kivu province between 2013 and 2016.

December 13, 2017: Russia has asked the UN Security Council for an exemption to the weapons embargo imposed on the Central African Republic (CAR). Russian wants to provide weapons for 1,300 CAR soldiers recently trained by the EU. The soldiers would receive light infantry weapons and ammunition for the weapons-- assault rifles, pistols and sniper rifles. These weapons would arrive by February 1, 2018. Eventually Russia proposes to supply the CAR with 5,200 assault rifles as well as mortars, rocket propelled grenade launchers and 22 anti-aircraft guns.

The U.S. has imposed individual economic sanctions on two men, a Ugandan and a Sudanese, who are accused of helping the Ugandan LRA (Lords Resistance Army) rebels smuggle illegal elephant ivory. The LRA survives on the money it makes from smuggling ivory, wood, minerals and outright robbery. The U.S. believes the two men now under sanction were part of an LRA "support network." The Ugandan was identified as an LRA intelligence officer.

Burundian president Pierre Nkurunziza is at it again. He has begun a campaign to make further constitutional changes that will let him remain in office until 2034. His bid to change the constitution in April 2015 started Burundi's internal crisis. That bid was successful. He amended the constitution and was elected to a third term.

December 12, 2017: Uganda announced it will conduct "hot pursuit" operations against the Islamic terrorist ADF (Allied Democratic Forces) rebels if they attack Uganda from their bases in Congo. The warning comes after ADF fighters killed 15 Tanzanian peacekeepers on December 7.

December 10, 2017: Angola, Congo Republic-Brazzaville and Congo have asked the UN and international community to declare the ADF to be a terrorist group.

In southwest Congo (the Kasai region) international investigators continue to find more evidence of government-committed war crimes. Though the government has opposed foreign investigators, both UN and international NGO (non-governmental organization) teams are have deployed in the area. The alleged crimes include beheadings of civilians by the pro-government Bana Mura militia and attacks on Catholic churches. The Catholic bishops helped negotiate the December Accord of 2016 that was supposed to end Congo's constitutional crisis and remove Kabila from office. In early 2017 the Catholic Church reported a sharp increase in attacks and vandalism on Catholic facilities throughout the country.

December 9, 2017: In southwest Congo (the Kasai region) nearly 1.4 million people (60 percent of them children) has been displaced by fighting so far.

December 7, 2017: In eastern Congo (North Kivu province) 19 peacekeepers and soldiers were killed (and 53 wounded) when their base was attacked by ADF rebels. The base was described as a "remote" facility and was apparently the the deadliest attack on UN peacekeepers since 24 Pakistani peacekeepers were killed in Somalia in 1994.

Uganda announced that it has begun a planned withdrawal of its 6,000 troops serving with the UN peacekeepers in Somalia. The first 281 soldiers left today and another 700 will be withdrawn by January 1, 2018.

December 5, 2017: Zambia reported a "surge" of Congolese refugees. An estimated 13,000 Congolese fled into Zambia in the least week of November. Most of the refugees were women and children. They reported they were fleeing fighting by tribal militias in south-eastern Congo.

December 4, 2017: In eastern CAR a Christian anti-balaka (anti-machete) militia attacked UN peacekeepers killing one and wounding three others.

In Congo opposition political groups have accused the government of recruiting former M23 rebels to serve as political enforcers. The opposition claims security officials recruited at least 200 former M23 gunmen in late 2016 and sent them to areas (Kinshasa, Goma and Lubumbashi) where government opposition was most active. The government said the claims were ridiculous.

 

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