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Opinion: Solving the Kivu Equation

IWPR - December 24, 2008
Congo-Kinshasa - Goma - Sake

The conflict raging in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC, has not grabbed the attention of the international community like the Rwandan genocide of 1994 or the war in Darfur.

However, everything indicates that the DRC has experienced a drama without precedent. The war has claimed the lives of five million people mostly from the east, and there are more than half a million refugees living in terrible conditions.

While Congo and Rwanda trade accusations about who is responsible, a string of rebel movements continue killing and illegally exploiting Congo's natural resources, and it becomes increasingly clear that the 2006 elections were not enough to introduce real democracy.

The presence of FDLR soldiers - Rwandan Hutus who fled into Congo after the genocide and now control part of the illegal mineral trade in the east - is a pretext for Rwanda to attack the Kivus.

The FDLR are also used by Laurent Nkunda as a justification for his "protection" of the Tutsi minority. As if defending a minority is an acceptable excuse for massacring other Congolese ethnic groups.

That's the Kivu equation, but how can it be solved?

Diplomacy is one option for ending the cycle of violence, but this has been tried and so far failed. There have been United Nations resolutions, MONUC peacekeepers and numerous peace agreements - Nairobi I, Goma, Nairobi II. European and American negotiators have all trekked to Kinshasa and Goma.

But diplomacy isn't enough. To chase the genocidaire Hutus back home or elsewhere, neutralise Nkunda, secure the borders and block the illegal trade of minerals, a strong army is needed. For an army to be strong, it has to be sufficiently motivated and well-equipped. The Congolese army is neither of those things, and often the abuser rather than protector.

Some are pleading in favour of the deployment of a European Union-led military stabilisation force to reassure the population which does not trust the UN peacekeepers anymore. That force would have a deterrent effect on the troublemakers.

But the Europeans are divided and unenthusiastic about getting involved in a regional quagmire and are instead pushing a political and diplomatic solution. In spite of the request by UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon, no European country except Belgium has clearly expressed support for military action.

General Henri Bentegeat, chairman of the EU military committee, said in a recent interview that the EU does not want to completely discredit MONUC since the latter still has a great deal of work to do in the Congo.

As far as MONUC's credibility is concerned, it is important to stress that the UN force has so far not been able to protect civilian populations from Nkunda's troops. This increases the feeling of abandonment.

There are calls for the MONUC mandate to be reinforced but that mandate is already strong and pro-active. UN Security Council Resolution 1794 from December 2007 says that peacekeepers must "use all necessary means to protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence, particularly in the Kivus". It says "the protection of civilians must be given priority in decisions about the use of available capacity and resources" and that MONUC can support the army "with a view to disarming the recalcitrant foreign and Congolese armed groups".

The problem will not be solved by another mandate or by bringing in 3,000 additional troops as the Security Council decided in November. The Congolese government is said to oppose the deployment of more Indian peacekeepers, who have been accused of serious crimes against civilians in the east, such as the sexual abuse of minors. The Indian and Pakistani contingents who make up the bulk of the MONUC force have no will to fight for peace.

The International Criminal Court, ICC, could help but hasn't so far.

It should investigate the crimes being committed by all the warring parties in North Kivu, particular the massacre at Kiwanja where according to Human Rights Watch 150 people were killed by Nkunda's soldiers and others, not far from a UN base. These crimes must not go unpunished.

Victims see that Nkunda has already gone unpunished for the Bukavu massacres of 2004 and that nothing has been done about that by the Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC.

The region's troubles have been caused by factors from outside the country but also from within. The solution must take both of these things into account.

The international community must take responsibility by sending in an intervention force which will surely help in forcing the combatants to respect the ceasefire.

It is also necessary to revive the Goma and Nairobi peace agreements by pressuring Rwanda to stop supporting Nkunda and the Congolese government to stop its complicity with the FDLR. Only then can the government regain state authority throughout Congo and the "Kivu equation" be solved once and for all.

Eugène Bakama Bope is president of Friends of the Law in Congo and an IWPR contributor.

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