CNN & Michelle Faul / Associated Press – 2008-11-08 10:45:25
UN Chief: Rebels ‘Poisonous’ for Congo
NAIROBI, Kenya (October 7, 2008) — UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Friday rebels who are fighting government troops in the Democratic Republic of Congo pose “poisonous consequences” for the country amid a worsening humanitarian crisis. Ban, who has said he is “deeply concerned” about the violence, told an emergency summit in Nairobi, Kenya, that the continued attacks and instability were worsening the “desperate” situation.
Congolese President Joseph Kabila was attending the summit along with Rwandan President Paul Kagame and Ugandan President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni. Rwanda and Uganda border the volatile North Kivu province in eastern Congo, where most of the fighting is taking place.
The conflict is driven by unresolved ethnic hatred stemming from the killings of a half-million Tutsis by Hutu militia in Rwanda and Congo’s civil wars in 1994.
The United Nations and Human Rights Watch say more than a million people have been displaced by the latest fighting in Congo. Most went to UN-protected camps in Congo, but hundreds of others fled to neighboring countries. At least 100 civilians have been killed and more than 150 wounded during the past eight weeks, Human Rights Watch says.
Ban called “for an immediate cessation of hostilities and the withdrawal of forces to positions held prior to the resumption of fighting on 28 August,” when the latest conflict broke out. Ban urged all armed groups involved in the fighting to support efforts to find a political solution, and “to avoid activities that result in the further displacement and suffering of the civilian population.”
The head of the UN mission in Congo said at the summit Friday that additional peacekeeping battalions were needed in eastern Congo. The mission, known by its French acronym MONUC, is already the largest UN peacekeeping force in the world with more than 17,000 troops. Alan Doss said MONUC has managed to stabilize all but the eastern part of Congo, and he wants additional battalions rapidly deployed to that region.
The presidents of Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi, South Africa and the African Union were also at the summit, which comes amid reports of heavy civilian casualties.
Human Rights Watch reported that rebel forces under the command of General Laurent Nkunda and government-backed Mai Mai militias deliberately killed civilians in Kiwanja, in North Kivu, on Tuesday and Wednesday. The two sides were fighting each other and killed civilians trapped in the conflict zone, Human Rights Watch said.
“Eyewitnesses in Kiwanja told Human Rights Watch that at least 20 persons were killed and another 33 wounded during a battle for the town and in the cleanup operations by Nkunda’s forces that followed,” the group said in a statement.
Human Rights Watch said UN peacekeepers in the area were unable to protect civilians.
After the rebels re-established control of Kiwanja on Wednesday, Human Rights Watch said, the rebels ordered all 30,000 residents of the town to leave. They then sought out and killed civilians, particularly men, whom they accused of supporting their enemies, the groups said.
“People in Kiwanja said they heard screams into the night and saw bodies on the streets the following morning,” Human Rights Watch said. One of those killed was a journalist working for a local radio station, the group said.
Witnesses said Mai Mai militias targeted civilians in Kiwanja, including those they accused of supporting Nkunda’s forces, Human Rights Watch said.
“The killing of civilians, the destruction of camps, and the forced return of displaced people are all war crimes,” said Anneke Van Woudenberg, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Nkunda and Mai Mai commanders should immediately order their troops to stop committing such horrible abuses and hold to account those commanders who are responsible.”
The fighting broke out at the end of August between the Congolese army and Nkunda’s rebel forces. The conflict is complicated by outside forces and a variety of armed groups fighting both the government and each other.
Some analysts say Rwanda is Nkunda’s principal supporter. Rwanda denies that, and for several years has been asking for the disarming of Rwandan Hutu rebels, many of whom are in eastern Congo.
The summit comes a year after another meeting in Nairobi, at which the Congolese and Rwandan governments signed a joint communique to resolve the issue of Rwandan Hutu rebels.
In the communique, they agreed that illegal armed groups were a threat to their countries and the region, and they agreed to take military and nonmilitary action to eliminate that threat.
The countries also agreed to stop arming, financing, or supporting armed groups in any way.
Links referenced within this article
Democratic Republic of the Congo
2008 Cable News Network.
Angola Troops Reportedly Join Congo in Fighting
Michelle Faul / Associated Press
GOMA, Congo (November 8, 2008) — Reports that Angolan troops joined Congolese soldiers battling rebels near the city of Goma raised new fears the conflict could spread in the region, but the UN chief holding a peace conference in nearby Nairobi denied the reports.
New clashes between the army and rebels erupted outside Goma near Kibati, where about 45,000 people fleeing from the rebellion in mineral-rich eastern Congo have taken refuge. Thousands headed toward the relative safety of Goma.
The French aid group Doctors Without Borders reported fighting in the towns of Rutshuru and Kiwanja, where the charity tried to send staff who had to turn back. The aid group said Rutshuru hospital was full of displaced civilians.
Congo asked Angola for support Oct. 29, as rebels led by Tutsi former general Laurent Nkunda advanced toward Goma, capital of North Kivu province near the Rwandan border. Nkunda called a unilateral cease-fire last week when his forces reached the city outskirts, but the truce has crumbled.
A UN official and a Uruguayan peacekeeping officer said Friday that an unspecified number of Angolan troops arrived four days ago. The two officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the subject’s sensitivity.
But UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he knew nothing about Angolan troops in Congo.
“I have no information about the Angolan troops participating in this at this point,” Ban said at a news conference called after a peace summit in Nairobi, Kenya.
He then asked UN envoy in Congo Alan Doss, who replied, “No, secretary-general. … I have no direct independent confirmation of that report.” In New York, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Edmond Mulet suggested some people may have mistaken Congolese government troops who had trained in Angola, and therefore spoke Portuguese, for Angolan troops.
The involvement of Angolans could spread the conflict beyond Congo’s borders. Neighboring Rwanda probably would consider Angolan troops a provocation. Rwanda’s Tutsi-led government is accused of supporting the Congolese rebels.
Congo’s 1998-2002 war drew in more than half a dozen African nations, including Angola and Rwanda, which profited from the vast country’s wealth of diamonds and other minerals.
Meanwhile, African leaders criticized the UN peacekeeping force in Congo – the world’s largest – for failing to protect civilians and end the violence that is convulsing eastern Congo.
Ban, holding the peace summit with Congolese President Joseph Kabila and six other African leaders, warned that the “crisis could engulf the broader subregion.”
“We must put the cycle of violence behind us,” Ban said, while calling for the Congolese army to be strengthened to respond to the situation.
Kabila spokesman Kudura Kasongo said the UN mission in Congo has not fulfilled its mandate. “If they have failed, why are we being left alone with that burden?” Kasongo asked.
Delegates at the summit said the region should send peacemaking forces if necessary. The region “would not stand by to witness incessant and destructive acts of violence by armed groups against innocent people,” a meeting statement said.
The government has refused direct talks with the rebels, and they were not at the meeting in Nairobi.
But Kabila and Rwanda President Paul Kagame held a rare face-to-face meeting for about five minutes Friday, the spokesman Kasongo said. Kabila’s government accuses Kagame’s Tutsi-led government of supporting the Congolese rebels.
The conflict is fueled by ethnic hatred left over from the 1994 slaughter of a half million Tutsis in Rwanda. Nkunda claims he is fighting to protect minority Tutsis from Rwandan Hutu rebels who participated in the genocide and fled to Congo afterward.
The violence in eastern Congo since August has driven 250,000 people from their homes. New York-based Human Rights Watch says at least 100 have died in the last two months.
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