The situation in North Katanga remains calm after the incidents on 1 August 2007, when locals targeted MONUC and UN property, causing much damage following unfounded rumours of a return of the Banyamulenge to Moba. We spoke to MONUC Kalemie chief Hendrik Bruyn, who explained the current situation in Kalemie sector and MONUC's efforts to bring calm to the local population adversely affected by rumours.
What's the current situation in Kalemie sector?
The current situation in Kalemie and the rest of Tanganyika District, including Moba, is calm, at least on the surface. The visit of the Minister of Rural Development, Charles Mwando Simba, accompanied by the Vice Minister of the Interior and the Provincial Minister of the Interior, as well as other information efforts, has helped to clarify the situation.
At the same time, however, the underlying tensions, feelings and animosity of the native population towards the Banyamulenge is still very much present. This is something that may take a long time to change. At the moment, the population is very susceptible to rumours of any kind; rumours regarding the [return of] Banyamulenge, regarding Mayi Mayi activities, or regarding UN and MONUC activities.
It is therefore doubly important for all elements of the UN family, civilian or military, to double-check any information or reports before disseminating it, as well as to ensure clear and transparent explanation and coordination with authorities and other counterparts. It is equally important that the population seeks clarification from the relevant authorities before jumping to conclusions.
Regularly there are rumours of yet another demonstration by ex-combatants. We have become used to these demonstrations and in the past they were always relatively peaceful, with only isolated cases of violence, or violence that could be contained. Now, however, there is a risk that these ex-combatants will be manipulated, or will join forces with the anti-Banyamulenge activists.
What has MONUC been doing?
First of all, security-wise, MONUC was of course instrumental in the evacuation operations of 1st and 2nd August 2007. Later on, MONUC made a security assessment of the current situation in Moba, after which the designated official, Mr. Swing or his delegate, will make a decision whether or not UN personnel will be allowed to return to Moba. MONUC military in the form of the Beninois Battalion (Benbatt), is part and parcel of the on-going securization of both Moba and Kalemie.
Benbatt has sent 60 troops to Moba and is patrolling Kalemie, as a 'show of force'. A number of Benbatt rapid reaction forces are also on stand-by in case the situation gets out of hand, or when the Congolese authorities and security forces, PNC or FARDC, can no longer contain a situation. The Benbatt presence in Moba will soon be beefed up to full MOB (Mobile Operational Base) size, of about 100 troops.
Furthermore, MONUC had been discussing these issues weeks before the 'Moba events' of 1 August, with the district and territory authorities, with the Banyamulenge community of Kalemie, as well as with UN Agencies, specifically with UNHCR, and with civil society organisations. These contacts, also with the clergy, are on-going, and have actually increased after 1 August.
MONUC's Civil Affairs Division is presently guiding members of the civil society organisations, and sensitizing those who are directly involved in rumour spreading, to encourage a better information exchange. There are plans within civil society for projects such as the construction of a community house, and other sensitization projects will follow. Through this process, MONUC aims to strengthen the base of the civil society, primarily in Kalemie and thereafter in other territories such as Moba, Manono and Kongolo.
Is there any reconciliation programmes in place?
The NGO Norwegian Refugee Council is currently managing a project of peaceful cohabitation in Moba Territory. This project aims to address questions of cohabitation between returnees, mostly from Zambia, and the rest of the population. This project is however not specifically targeting the Banyamulenge, since the returnees from Zamba are largely Moba natives.
Beyond that, civil society will be meeting to try and analyse the root causes of the xenophobia that has been present in Moba. It is hoped they will come up with hands on projects aiming to resolve the situation, because it is clear that there is a need for [more] reconciliation programmes.
I believe, however, that some care should be taken to target the Banyamulenge group with such programmes, or target other groups to reconcile specifically with the Banyamulenge, because this may reinforce any ideas that the Banyamulenge are receiving special attention, or worse still, may reconfirm ideas that the international community or the DRC government is planning some return or relocation operation.
What is the government's position on refugees in North Katanga?
The DRC government has been and still is, as far as I know, very much in favour of return movements; whether from Zambia, Tanzania, or elsewhere. The provincial and district authorities have always wholeheartedly supported UNHCR repatriation operations. For them it is a signal and a 'symptom' of the re-established peace. I believe that they would like to see a resumption of UN activities in Moba as soon as possible.
But I also believe that we, as the UN, must take care that the relevant authorities will be able to credibly guarantee an acceptable level of security for UN personnel, and also that they can demonstrate a minimum level of control over the population, including certain elements that may be intent on creating unrest. We are also waiting for the authorities to share the results of their investigations into the Moba incidents and, if applicable, we expect to see appropriate measures and prosecution of any ring leaders. The necessary action has to be initiated from Lubumbashi and Kinshasa.
What is the situation regarding the work of UN agencies and others NGOs on the ground?
As you know, at the moment UN staff are not allowed to go to Moba, so any programmes there are on hold. But anywhere else in Tanganyika, programmes and other activities continue, almost as before but of course we are all a little more alert and prepared in case of any adverse developments.
Unfortunately, it is not unusual that it takes an incident, of any kind, before some people realise the possible risks and consequences of our work. For NGOs the situation can be different; for example, some NGOs declined to be evacuated from Moba and have never left there.