Congo Ceasefire

Mat Owens 6 November 2008

After several days of relative calm, violence has broken out again in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The ceasefire between the rebel General Nkunda’s National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) and the Army of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) had previously seemed to be holding, with rebel forces halted 7 miles outside of Goma, the regional capital of the restive North Kivu Province, since October 29th.

However, a UN spokeswoman in Goma said that fighting had been renewed between rebel forces and pro-government militias.

The current rebel advance gained momentum with the capture of a major army base on October 26th and the Strategic Virunga National park, and there followed a series of battles which resulted in the Congolese army being routed from numerous towns and refugee camps despite being aided by Mission of the United Nations in the Democratic Republic of Congo (Monuc) forces, including helicopter gunships.

Altough Monuc forces are protecting Goma from a possible rebel attack, Bernard Kouchner, the French foreign minister, said at a meeting in Marseille:

“What should be done when people are being killed? We need more of an offensive capability.”

Monuc has 17,000 troops in the country but only 850 permanently stationed in Goma.

A proposed 1,500 strong EU force has been rejected but UN peace-keeping chief Alain Le Roy has said troops already there would ‘do the maximum to protect the civilians.’

In the wake of the fighting a growing humanitarian crisis is mounting with tens of thousands fleeing towards Goma and other towns, joining the BBC’s estimate of a previous 1 million internally displaced people.

The UN told the Financial Times that the conflict has caused ‘a humanitarian crisis of catastrophic dimensions.’

Aid is now arriving, but the unstable situation makes it hard to reach many of those fleeing, though General Nkunda has created an ‘Aid Corridor’ with the agreement of Monuc which has allowed a convoy of water purification tablets and medical supplies to reach rebel controlled territory, with food convoys hopefully to follow.

General Nkunda said in an interview with the BBC that the CNDP launched the latest attack after a breakdown in a ceasefire agreement signed in January with the DRC government due to the failure of government troops to disarm the Hutu rebel group, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).

FDLR are accused of terrorising General Nkunda’s ethnic group the Tutsi’s and of participating in the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, as well as recent reports of collaborating with government troops to illegally mine coltan, tin and gold.

Nkunda said his concern is for the security of his people and that if ‘government forces are not separated from the FDLR… we can not join them; we can not lay down our arms.’ He added that ‘we want to negotiate, we want to talk.’

Mat Owens