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Congo (Kinshasa): Conflict, Displacement Escalate

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Dec 13, 2007 (071213)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

As fighting escalates between Congolese government troops and the dissident forces of General Laurent Nkunda, UN SecretaryGeneral Ban Ki-moon has called attention to the "massive displacement of mistreatment of the population" in North Kivu. But UN forces have a complex mandate of both protecting civilians and aiding the Congolese army in reestablishing control.

The latest military effort by government forces, after Nkunda repudiated an agreement to merge his troops into the national army, seems to have backfired, as Nkunda's forces have retaken territory, provoking new civilian flight. All forces involved, including the "unified" national army, have been guilty of systematic violation of human rights, including rape and other abuses of civlians.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains several reports on recent developments, from United Nations sources and from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre. Another AfricaFocus Bulletin sent out today contains excerpts from several background analyses, from the International Crisis Group, African Rights, and Refugees International, as well as links to additional sources.

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and related links, visit
http://www.africafocus.org/country/congokin.php

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++

Upsurge in Violent Clashes in Eastern DR Congo Alarms Secretary-General

UN News Service (New York)
http://www.un.org

12 December 2007

New York

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today that he was deeply concerned by the intense fighting engulfing North Kivu province in the far east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), especially its impact on local civilians, many of whom have been forced to flee to escape the renewed violence.

In a statement issued by his spokesperson, Mr. Ban said he was "particularly troubled by reports of massive displacement and mistreatment of the population" in North Kivu, where Government forces (FARDC) are clashing with troops loyal to renegade General Laurent Nkunda.

"The United Nations is working closely with the Government of the DRC and with others to help bring peace and security to this troubled region," the statement noted. "The Secretary-General calls on the forces of Laurent Nkunda to lay down their arms."

More than 4,500 blue helmets with the UN peacekeeping mission to the DRC (known by its French acronym MONUC) have been deployed to North Kivu to help ensure the defence of Goma, the provincial capital, and the key town of Sak‚.

William Lacy Swing, the head of MONUC and the Secretary-General's Special Representative to the DRC, has confirmed that Sak‚ remains under the control of UN peacekeepers and that the blue helmets will do everything under their mandated powers to protect Goma and Sak‚ from falling to the Nkunda forces. Yesterday dissident troops recaptured Mushake, a hillside town about 40 kilometres northwest of Goma.

Since the clashes began in North Kivu earlier this year, MONUC has transported more than 25 tons of provisions for the Congolese armed forces, conducted 33 air reconnaissance missions and evacuated 151 wounded FARDC soldiers.

North Kivu has also been plagued by increased sexual violence against both women and young girls, with some 2,700 cases of rape reported between January and October this year in the province.

The statement from Mr. Ban's spokesperson emphasized that the mission backs the Government's efforts to establish legitimate State authority in the far east of the troubled country and to meet its commitment under the Nairobi communiqu‚, which the DRC and Rwanda signed last month to try to work together against illegal armed groups operating around the border between the two countries.

"The Secretary-General calls on the Government of the DRC to take all measures necessary to protect civilians."

An inter-agency UN mission headed to the area this week to assess the situation and devise recommendations on how to protect internally displaced persons (IDPs) and the local civilian population.

Yet this week alone, another 60,000 to 70,000 IDPs are reported to be on the move again, this time from camps near Goma. More than 400,000 people have been displaced in North Kivu in the past 12 months.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that currently all humanitarian movements outside Goma are proceeding only under the escort of MONUC blue helmets. Several relief agencies have temporarily withdrawn their staff from areas close to clashes and most aid convoys have been postponed.

The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) has deposited several thousand basic supply kits to zones that might soon become inaccessible because of the fighting, while the World Food Programme (WFP) is distributing food to thousands of families living at the IDP camp at Kibumba.

The UN's humanitarian action plan for the DRC next year, launched yesterday, calls for $575 million, with almost 30 per cent of the total dedicated just to North Kivu.

The eastern DRC remains the most violent region in the vast country, where MONUC has otherwise overseen the transition from a six-year civil war that cost 4 million lives in fighting and attendant hunger and disease - widely considered the most lethal conflict in the world since World War II - to gradual stabilization, culminating in the first democratic elections in over four decades last year.


Concern Over Conscription of Children, Human Rights Abuses in North Kivu

UN Integrated Regional Information Networks
http://www.irinnews.org

13 December 2007

Kinshasa

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations ]

Insurgents loyal to dissident general Laurent Nkunda, fighting government troops in North Kivu, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), are still recruiting children into their ranks, even as serious human rights violations, including some committed by agents of the state, are rife in the region, according to the UN Mission in Congo (MONUC).

"Forced recruitment [of children] took place outside schools, especially in the village of Burungu, when students returned to their homes, causing many to flee into the bush," Kemal Saiki, MONUC's spokesman, told reporters on 12 December.

In some cases, demobilised, underage former fighters are being re-recruited, according to the spokesman, who cited the case of 20 children who had rejoined Nkunda's ranks in the North Kivu village of Kirambu.

He expressed concern over cases of serious abuses, including rape, summary executions, torture, inhumane and degrading treatment, and arbitrary arrests that continue to be reported every day throughout the country, despite an improvement in the overall human rights record since the signing in 2003 of a peace agreement designed to end civil war in DRC.

"Every month, hundreds of women and girls continue to be victims of rape and other forms of sexual violence in all provinces of the DRC," said Saiki.

"The main perpetrators of human rights abuses are no longer armed groups [ie. non-government forces], but mainly agents of the state, whose mandate is to ensure the protection of the Congolese population," he added.

He noted that those serving in the police and the army worked and lived under difficult conditions but stressed this was no excuse for such acts and the culture of impunity that accompanied them.

Reiterating the seriousness of sexual violence, Saiki said that 2,656 cases were recorded in North Kivu between January and October 2007, while 4,500 cases were reported in South Kivu during the first half of 2007.

"The figures reflect only a tiny fraction of the very many victims who generally prefer to remain silent instead of asking for help because they are traumatised, face stigmatisation by their families and communities or are at risk of retaliation from perpetrators," he said.

On the raging warfare between Nkunda's forces and government troops in North Kivu, Saiki said MONUC would continue to provide support to the national army in an effort to save the lives of civilians in positions held by insurgents.

"Despite the temporary setback by the Congolese army during the past 48 hours in the region of Mushake, the town of Sake is still held by MONUC peacekeepers. We are providing assistance to the Forces arm‚es de la R‚publique D‚mocratique du Congo (FARDC) so that they can handle the situation and consolidate their positions in other areas of North Kivu," he added.

Nkunda's troops have regained control of Mushake in eastern North Kivu, which they had lost to government forces less than a week earlier.

In a related development, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed concern over the escalation of violence in North Kivu, noting that civilians were bearing the brunt of the fighting through massive displacement and mistreatment.

"The United Nations is working closely with the government of the DRC and with others to help bring peace and security to this troubled region," a statement issued by Ban's spokesperson on 12 December said. "The Secretary-General calls on the forces of Laurent Nkunda to lay down their arms."

Nkunda has, meanwhile, reportedly expressed willingness to hold talks with the government in a bid to stop the fighting.

"We need to negotiate. We call for the opening of discussions with the government," Rene Abandi, spokesman for Nkunda's group, told AFP news agency on 12 December.


Worsening humanitarian crisis as internal displacement escalates in the east

International Displacement Monitoring Centre
http://www.internal-displacement.org

29 November 2007

[excerpts - for full report, including maps and references, visit http://www.internal-displacement.org]

Following major new displacement in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a total of at least 1.4 million people remained internally displaced in the DRC as of November 2007. Fighting between Congolese armed forces and dissident troops and militias, as well as widespread human rights violations committed by all groups, caused the displacement of at least 500,000 people in eastern DRC in 2007, particularly in North Kivu province. IDPs in North Kivu have been victims of grave human rights abuses committed by all the factions engaged in fighting and by other civilians. In addition, many of them could not receive assistance from international agencies whose access has been blocked by the level of insecurity. ...

Successful elections were held in the second half of 2006, but after a lull in the conflict, fighting intensified in 2007, and displacement in North Kivu was in 2007 at its highest level since the official end of the war in 2003. No specific framework or national policy addresses the rights of IDPs or returning IDPs, as provided by the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.

Background of displacement and recent developments

In 1996, and again between 1998 and 2003, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) suffered two major wars, in which millions died and large-scale displacement occurred. A number of rebel groups, more or less closely linked to neighbouring states such as Uganda and Rwanda, competed to control large areas of eastern DRC. Civilians bore the brunt of the violence, often being targeted for ethnic or political reasons. Displacement peaked in 2003, with an estimated 3.4 million people forced from their homes, most of them in the east of the country. The International Rescue Committee estimated that 3.9 million people had died as a result of conflict-related causes since 1998 (IRC, 6 January 2006).

In mid-2003, a power-sharing transitional government was set up following the withdrawal of foreign armies. Made up of former enemies who frequently quarrelled openly, the national government was unable to bring security to eastern DRC, where local militias continued to cause massive displacement. In 2006, millions of voters elected Joseph Kabila as President in the country's first multi-candidate vote in over 45 years. The majority of IDPs were reportedly unable to vote due to insecurity, or because they had lost their electoral cards during their flight or had them confiscated by armed men (OCHA, 15 August 2006; NRC, April 2006).

Authorised to use all necessary means to protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence ("Chapter VII" of the UN Charter), the 17,000 peacekeepers of the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC) play a crucial role in providing security in the country. About 85 per cent of them are deployed in the unstable north-east of the country (UN News, 25 May 2007). MONUC is also tasked with monitoring compliance with the arms embargo imposed by the UN Security Council on armed groups operating in eastern DRC. ... Despite the arms embargo, weapons continue to be channelled to various armed groups in the DRC from neighbouring countries. MONUC's mandate is due to be reviewed by the UN Security Council at the end of 2007, and in the absence of stability in the eastern provinces, it is essential that this mandate is extended and adequately financed.

The continued presence of 20 foreign and domestic armed groups remains the biggest threat to the population (OCHA, 17 July 2007). The policy of the Congolese government in response to this challenge is to integrate into the army over 78,000 troops from various belligerent factions through a process known as "brassage", as well as to disarm and repatriate foreign armed groups (MONUC, 8 March 2007). However, this integration process has been marred by corruption and by conflicts between soldiers, often reflecting local ethnic divisions, particularly in North and South Kivu. Failings in the disarmament and demobilisation programme, administered by the Congolese commission CONADER, have resulted in an undisciplined national army, which has taken on the characteristics of the rebel groups it was supposed to be integrating (CFR, 16 February 2007). Congolese soldiers, themselves ill-equipped, unpaid and unfed, are often in no position to defend themselves - or any civilian in their care - against armed groups. The government needs to complete the brassage process with the support of the international community if the security of civilians is to improve.

In North Kivu, dissident general Laurent Nkunda, at the helm of one of the Congolese rebel groups, agreed in December 2006 to a limited form of integration of his troops, called "mixage". In many cases, Nkunda's troops then operated nominally as members of the national army in the same regions where they had been renegade soldiers, and continued to commit widespread serious human rights violations. They are reported to have kidnapped and killed civilians accused of collaborating with a Hutu militia called the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), while the FDLR retaliated against civilians that had accepted the mixed brigades. The deal between the Congolese army and Nkunda collapsed in August 2007, leaving Nkunda in a stronger military and political position than prior to the agreement (HRW, 23 October 2007).

New displacement and return movements

The UN estimates that at least 1.4 million people are displaced in the DRC. Since December 2006, more than 500,000 have fled their homes in eastern DRC, two-thirds of them in North Kivu (OCHA, September 2007). Some 143,000 people were displaced between mid-September and mid-October 2007 alone (MONUC, 19 October 2007). Thousands more have fled to neighbouring countries. Many displaced children have been separated from their families during the latest fighting in North Kivu.

Most IDPs in eastern DRC have been displaced several times and live with host communities or hide in forests. In recent months, however, communities have been unable to cope with the massive influx of people, and IDPs have had to build makeshift settlements. In order to improve the conditions faced by some of the displaced people close to Goma, North Kivu's provincial capital, UNHCR has set up new camps with basic necessities, while the Norwegian Refugee Council manages four other camps (UNHCR, 19 October 2007).

From January to June 2007, over 1.1 million IDPs were estimated to have returned to their places of origin in eastern DRC (OCHA, 31 July 2007). More people seemed to benefit from assistance packages in 2007 than in previous years. Still, needs are enormous, as fighting and looting have led to a complete breakdown of services, and returning IDPs often find health centres, schools and their houses destroyed. ...

Physical security

The protection of the displaced and other civilians in eastern DRC is an urgent concern. The Congolese army, as well as armed militias, have been responsible for increased human rights abuses in North and South Kivu in 2007, particularly since the beginning of the brassage and mixage processes, including killings, rape, sexual exploitation, abductions, forcible conscription of children, looting, plundering of crops, illegal taxation and general harassment of civilians. According to UNHCR, IDPs in North Kivu have been victims of grave human rights violations by all the factions engaged in fighting and by other civilians (IRIN, 8 May 2007). ...

Despite all initiatives undertaken to counter sexual violence, rape continues to be widespread throughout the country. Government soldiers and rebel fighters have committed widespread sexual violence ...

According to the UN Special Representative on Children in Armed Conflict, 54,000 victims of sexual violence were identified from 2004 to March 2007, of which 16 per cent were children (DPI, 16 March 2007). This is likely to be only the tip of the iceberg, with many sexual violence survivors ashamed or otherwise unable to come forward to seek help (UNICEF, 24 July 2006). ...In the first half of 2007, over 2,000 cases of rape were reported in North Kivu and 4,500 in South Kivu (IRIN, 15 October 2007; IRIN, 14 September 2007). ...


AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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