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Humanitarian aid still needed in east of country: DRC

Posted by African Press International on December 3, 2013

GENEVA, Switzerland, December 2, 2013/African Press Organization (APO)/ With the end of fighting between the armed forces and M23 in Rutshuru, displaced people are returning home. The ICRC and the Red Cross Society of the Democratic Republic of the Congo are carrying on with their humanitarian work in the east of the country.

“Recent events in Rutshuru should not cause us to overlook the fact that the humanitarian and security situation remains difficult in other territories in the east of the country,” said Alessandra Ménegon, head of the ICRC delegation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. “The people there are still facing serious problems arising from violence and the lack of health care, clean water and food.”

In Rutshuru, groups of displaced people have been returning to their home villages since fighting ended. Several hundred members of M23 have turned themselves in or been captured. “We are visiting former fighters and civilians arrested in connection with the recent fighting, and the places where they are gathered or detained,” said Rachel Bernhard, head of the ICRC sub-delegation in Goma.

The aim of the ICRC’s visits is to assess the conditions in which people are being held and to ensure that they are being treated humanely and with dignity, in accordance with applicable rules and standards.

Unexploded munitions a danger for the population

“People are trying to get back to living normal lives, so they’re going to be working in the fields, but it’s very risky because of the explosive hazards that remain,” said Ms Bernhard.

To help prevent accidents involving explosive devices, radio messages warning of the danger are being broadcast by the Congolese Red Cross and the ICRC.

The recent improvement in security conditions made it possible to reunite almost 40 children who had been living in shelters in Goma with their families in mid-November. “My granddaughter is coming home today,” said Augustine. “I was afraid I would never see her again.” Since the beginning of October, 125 children have been returned to their families through the joint efforts of the ICRC and the Congolese Red Cross.

Improved health-care facilities in South Kivu

In territories other than Rutshuru in the east of the country, fighting involving many armed groups is causing great suffering for civilians. In South Kivu, an ICRC surgical team has performed 44 operations on war-wounded patients in the provincial referral hospital of Bukavu since the beginning of October.

“We’re upgrading the infrastructure in this hospital, and building a new health-care centre in Ramba, in Kalehe territory,” said Catherine de Patoul, in charge of ICRC medical programmes in North and South Kivu. A gynaecology unit is being fitted out in Walungu hospital. Medicines are being distributed and training provided in four rural hospitals and three health-care centres. In addition, support is being maintained for 40 counselling centres (“maisons d’écoute”) in the Kivus that accommodate victims of sexual assault and other violence-related trauma.

Following violent clashes between armed groups over the past few weeks, kitchen utensils, tarpaulins, blankets, sleeping mats and baskets have been distributed to some 35,000 people displaced from the south of Masisi who are now in the highlands of Kalehe and Ziralo in South Kivu.

In north-central Katanga province, a distribution of basic necessities has been slowed because of the security situation. Nevertheless, 1,900 people currently displaced in the villages of Paza and Kalwala, in Manono territory, received tarpaulins, sleeping mats, blankets, kitchen utensils, buckets, soap, hoes, plastic drums and hygiene products.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, since the beginning of October the ICRC has also:

•    continued to visit people held in civilian and military places of detention in connection with armed conflict, distributing food in five prisons and medicines in 19 prison clinics;

•    continued working to improve the water distribution network of the city of Goma, in particular by opening two new pumping stations that will ultimately provide the city’s 500,000 inhabitants with clean drinking water;

•    continued water catchment and supply programmes for more than 85,000 people living in rural areas in the territories of Walikale, Masisi and Rushuru, in North Kivu province;

•    continued fish farm projects in North and South Kivu for almost 4,000 people, and agricultural projects involving the distribution of healthy cassava cuttings, soybean, maize and beans with the aim of promoting the economic recovery of people displaced by conflict or returning home;

•    reunited 125 children with their families by working together with the Congolese Red Cross in Equator, Western and Eastern Kasai, Katanga, North and South Kivu and Eastern provinces.

 

SOURCE

International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)

 

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Wounded soldiers treated at Gisenyi hospital

Posted by African Press International on November 10, 2013

GENEVA, Switzerland, November 8, 2013/African Press Organization (APO)/ – Following the latest clashes between government forces and armed group M23 in North Kivu province, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 76 wounded soldiers have crossed the border into Rwanda and been admitted to Gisenyi hospital.

A surgical team from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was immediately sent to provide urgent support to the facility’s medical staff as of 8 November. “Our medical teams are now assessing the urgency of each case,” said Georges Paclisanu, head of the ICRC delegation in Rwanda.

The ICRC worked with Rwandan Red Cross volunteers to transfer the war-wounded from Kinigi to Gisenyi hospital on 5 and 6 November. Nineteen people with battle injuries had already been admitted to the hospital the previous week. “We’re also making sure the patients are getting enough food,” added Mr Paclisanu. The hospital has been supplied with medicines and medical equipment.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda, the ICRC continues to bring aid to those affected by the recent fighting. In Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo, an ICRC surgical team is treating people wounded in combat at Ndosho hospital. Meanwhile, in Uganda, delegates have registered over 100 children who became separated from their families as they fled the hostilities. With the support of Uganda Red Cross volunteers active in the refugee camps, the ICRC is offering families the chance to get in touch with their loved ones.

 

SOURCE

International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)

 

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The fighting has caused massive displacement -International pressure needed to repair the situation

Posted by African Press International on September 15, 2013

Hoping for a lull in fighting as talks proceed (file photo)

KAMPALA,  – After months of delay, peace talks between the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and M23 rebels are back on, at the urging of regional leaders. But analysts remain sceptical that a truce can be achieved after more than a year and a half of intermittent fighting in eastern DRC’s North Kivu Province.

On 10 September, the two delegations met for the first time since April, with Ugandan Defence Minister Crispus Kiyonga mediating. The talks had first kicked off in December 2012, under the auspices of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), but have broken down a number of times since then.

“We are very optimistic we shall be able to deliver something in the two weeks,” Kiyonga told IRIN. “There is renewed commitment by the two sides. For some time, the government side was not here [Kampala]. But now everybody has come.”

M23 – the March 23 Movement – came into existence in April 2012, when hundreds of mainly ethnic Tutsi soldiers of the national army (FARDC), mutinied over poor living conditions and poor pay. Most of the mutineers had been members of the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), another armed group that in 2009 signed a deal with the government, which the dissidents felt Kinshasa had not fully implemented.

An estimated 900,000 people are currently displaced in North Kivu, more than half of them by the M23 rebellion; tens of thousands more have fled across the DRC’s borders with Rwanda and Uganda. Humanitarians continue to flag the issue of civilian protection as FARDC and M23 engage in intermittent battles in and around the provincial capital Goma, where the fighting has displaced more than 100,000.

International pressure

The resumption of the talks follows a directive by a 5 September ICGLR Heads of State and Government summit, which set a three-day deadline for talks to resume and conclude within a fortnight.

But analysts say it is pressure from international leaders, rather than a genuine commitment to a negotiated solution, that has led to revived talks.

While on a joint visit to DRC, Uganda and Rwanda, a delegation of senior African Union, European Union (EU), UN and US officials, led by the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy to the Great Lakes Mary Robinson, called for the implementation of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the DRC and the Region. The framework aims for, among other things, improving security and consolidating the state’s authority in eastern DRC. The agreement was signed on 24 February in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, by 11 African countries.

The officials also urged all parties to “bring the Kampala Dialogue to a positive and swift conclusion”, encourage the reduction of tensions in eastern DRC, and “identify and support confidence-building measures between DRC and Rwanda”.

“The Congolese government is coming back to the negotiations table but seems forced to do so. During the opening of the national consultations[held in Kinshasa on 10 September], President Kabila made it clear that if the talks fail, the fighting will resume,” Thierry Vircoulon, an analyst with the South Africa based think-tank International Crisis Group (ICG), told IRIN.

“I think concerted pressure by a variety of envoys from the US, the EU, Belgium and the UN has made an impact, particularly through pressure on Rwanda [which is accused of supporting the M23 rebels, a claim vehemently denied by the Rwandan government]. Whether this will amount to anything, however, remains to be seen,” Jason Stearns, director of the Rift Valley Institute’s (RVI) Usalama Project, which conducts research on armed groups in eastern DRC, told IRIN.

“The initial statements by the M23 and the Congolese government do not look promising. If the talks are to succeed, both sides will have to bridge a deep divide on various issues, particularly whether the top leadership of the M23 can be integrated into the army and whether they will be redeployed across the country,” he added.

Tough positions

Kiyonga told a media briefing on 10 September that the two parties had reached a draft peace deal, with 60 percent of its clauses agreed upon. According to Rene Abandi, head of M23’s delegation, some of the key sticking points include: the reintegration of top M23 leadership into FARDC; disarmament and demobilization of the rebels; and the elimination of the DRC-based, Hutu-dominated Rwandan rebel group Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (FDLR).

Abandi said he hoped this time “we shall be able to handle all the issues”, sentiments echoed by Francois Mwamba, spokesman for the DRC government’s delegation.

“One of the key outcomes of this round of talks will be how the ICGLR and the parties themselves deal with the issue of amnesty and impunity for the leadership of the M23. A divide has already become apparent with both the UN and US envoys making statements that amnesty must not be an option for M23 senior leadership, while the current chair of the ICGLR, President Museveni, has publicly stated that amnesty must be on the table,” Aaron Hall, field researcher for anti-genocide group The Enough Project, told IRIN.

The fighting has caused massive displacement (file photo)

“There must be accountability for the most responsible perpetrators of the most serious crimes. Previous amnesty deals for leaders of rebel movements in eastern Congo – whether it be military reintegration, house arrest, or third country resettlement – have not only failed, but continued to perpetuate conflict in eastern Congo,” he added. “History in the region clearly demonstrates that there can be no peace without justice.”

According to a recent blog post by Stearns, despite the resumption of talks, the parties effectively remained deadlocked, with M23 saying “they would only put down their weapons if the FDLR are neutralized and Congolese refugees are allowed to return to the Congo, two goals that will take years to fully achieve”.

“On the other side of the table, the Congolese government has issued arrest warrants for Colonel Makenga, Kayna and Kazarama – the number one and two of the M23, as well as their spokesperson, respectively,” he added. “It is difficult to see the Kinshasa delegation, or international observers for that matter, accepting an amnesty for these top officials, which would mean that the M23 would have to accept excluding its top leadership.”

Uganda’s Kiyonga urged all parties – including the recently deployed UN Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) – to desist from further violence while the talks were underway. The latest violence broke out in July; by early September, however, the rebels had retreated from Goma following an offensive by the UN FIB.

“It’s unfortunate that we keep getting renewed fighting in the field. You can’t keep talking yet there is fighting… Any shelling or shooting should stop,” he said. “The UN is expected to respect the dialogue. I hope they will understand, [and] there will be no fighting as we talk.”

Humanitarian organizations working in the region are keenly awaiting the results of the talks but are unsure whether they will make a difference on the ground. “The key issue is that the M23 and the situation in Rutshuru area is not the only problem in eastern DRC. There are many other armed groups that are causing unrest, and many say that there is an increase in banditism,” said Chantal Daniels, Central Africa policy and advocacy officer for the NGO Christian Aid. “In general, I’m afraid that Kampala will not change things significantly on the ground. Even if an agreement is reached between the DRC and the M23, it is questionable if and how this is implemented, what the conditions from both sides are, and what that will do with the further dynamics with regard to armed groups on the ground.”

She added: “Last week SRSG [Special Representative of the UN Secretary General] of MONUSCO [the UN Stabilization Mission in DRC] Martin Kobler mentioned that ‘islands of peace’ will be created. I am very curious to see [what] this will look like, also with regard to humanitarian access during operations, and to what extent these ‘islands’ can be sustainable.”

Doubts about Uganda, ICGLR

There has been some criticism of the ICGLR’s handling of the talks and doubt about its ability to deliver a peaceful conclusion to the conflict.

“The ICGLR has proven useful in its role as a convener. However, a fundamental flaw of the Kampala talks to this point has been lack of transparency, accountability and inclusivity,” said Hall. “In order to make gains towards peace, stability and development in eastern Congo, a broader, more inclusive process is necessary that focuses on regional drivers of instability and brings to the table key actors that have been absent from the current talks – particularly the government of Rwanda.”

Also in question is Uganda’s neutrality, particularly following the DRC government’s August expulsion of Uganda’s Brigadier Geoffrey Muheesi, coordinator of the regional Expanded Joint Verification Mechanism (EJVM), set up by the ICGLR to address DRC-Rwanda border security issues. It is thought Muheesi was expelled for being too friendly to the rebels and to Rwanda.

“The talks are under the auspices of Uganda, which is not seen as neutral by Kinshasa, as demonstrated by the fact that the Ugandan general running the joint verification mechanism was recently expelled by the DRC. There is a clear lack of trust with the Ugandan facilitation,” said ICG’s Vircoulon.

Despite the challenges, analysts say there is reason to hope that the talks, if handled correctly, could reach a positive conclusion. “Given the pressure and timelines put on both sides by the ICGLR, UN Special Envoy and other international partners, this iteration of talks presents the greatest chance thus far for agreement to be reached,” said Hall, who noted that the success of the current round of talks would largely depend on both parties demonstrating “empathy and pragmatism”.

He continued: “For example, M23 cannot expect blanket amnesty and the full eradication of the FDLR in a two-week period, nor can the government of Congo expect temporary military gains made with support from the FIB and UN to be long-term solutions to dealing with the grievances of the M23.”

so/kr/rz  source http://www.irinnews.org

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M23 fighting the DRC is one of the 30 armed groups in the country’s east.

Posted by African Press International on August 30, 2013

M23, currently fighting the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) army and UN forces near the North Kivu cap ital of Goma, is just one of more than 30 armed groups in the country’s east, all of which – through casualties or desertions – need to constantly replenish their ranks. Any previous affiliations to militias is not a barrier for recruitment.

After a year spent serving in the DRC-based Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), Céléstin Kabeya*, a 19-year-old former combatant, fears returning home. He says he will only be forcibly recruited – again – into one of the three militias at large in the area.

Kabeya told IRIN that he had been forced to join the FDLR in 2012 after a patrol passed through his family farm in the North Kivu territory of Rutshuru.

“They first asked me to help them carry water, and then asked for directions. I showed them the way, and then they told me not to go back. They did not give me any military training. They just gave me a sub-machine gun,” he explained.

He said he was one of seven Congolese in the FDLR unit of about 50 combatants – the majority exiled Rwandans – four of whom were child soldiers. Without a salary, they survived by “looting only.”

“I worry about going home. I am afraid to go back, as there are three [armed] groups there. I will just be recruited by force again. I am thinking about maybe trying to find a relative in Goma to live with,” Kabeya said. The groups operating in his home area are the FDLR, Forces de Défense Congolaise (FDC) and Alliance of Patriots for a Free and Sovereign Congo (APCLS).

Caught in a cycle

Joining a succession of different militias, or being “recycled” into other armed groups, is not uncommon in North and South Kivu provinces.

Rufin Kapiamba*, a 21-year-old former combatant, said he voluntarily joined the Nduma Defence of Congo (NDC/Sheka) to seek revenge against the FDLR, after witnessing its members decapitate his uncle near the North Kivu town of Pinga. He became part of a 52-strong detachment, of which a third were children.

He said Sheka Ntaberi, the group’s leader, first enlisted in the FDLR and then created his own militia. At first the two armed groups co-existed in an area replete with mineral wealth, but the alliance broke down over control of the natural resources.

“When we captured FDLR [combatants], we would kill them by cutting their heads off. I was afraid to do that. The kids shot them with a gun”

“When we captured FDLR [combatants], we would kill them by cutting their heads off. I was afraid to do that. The kids shot them with a gun. They were not ready to cut their heads off,” Kapiamba said.

He tried and failed to desert four times. “My two friends were killed [in an escape attempt],” he said, tugging open his loose-fitting shirt to reveal the scar from a bullet wound just below his collarbone.

Kapiamba ended up being captured by the APCLS during skirmishes over the control of a gold mine. Because of his first-hand knowledge of NDC/Sheka, he was absorbed into the militia as an intelligence officer – probably saving his life. After a month, he escaped, fleeing more than 30km to Kitchanga, where he handed himself over to the UN Stabilization Mission in DRC (MONUSCO).

He is now being demobilized at MONUSCO’s Disarmament, Demobilization, Reintegration, Repatriation and Resettlement (DDRRR) transit centre in Goma.

Yet Kapiamba’s options for civilian life are limited. He wants to complete the last two years of secondary school and says he will live with his sister in Goma, yet all he possesses are the civilian clothes he is wearing.

During his time with the armed groups, Kapiamba was paid US$15 to $20 every few months. His duties included manning checkpoints, imposing “taxes” on people travelling to markets – demanding either 200 Congolese francs ($0.21) or foodstuffs – which was funnelled to the armed groups’ leadership. He will be fortunate to have any income as a civilian.

Demobilization and integration

For nearly a decade, large-scale disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) programmes were operated in DRC, starting in 2002 with the UN Community Disarmament and Resettlement (CDR) programme in the Ituri region. Such programmes assisted former combatants in their transition to civilian life by providing cash or in-kind payments, such as bicycles or skills training. Tens of thousands or more passed through the national DDR programme.

Another strategy involved integrating former rebels into the security services. The National Commission for DDR was established in 2003, and the following year, after 10 armed groups signed a peace agreement, “it was estimated 330,000 combatants were eligible,” for the transition programme to civilian livelihoods according to an April report by the Small Arms Survey (SAS).

The programme was expanded to 22 more armed groups after the signing of another round of peace agreements in 2008. But “despite the increased number of armed groups eligible for DDR, fewer combatants participated in the government-led DDR programmes than anticipated,” said the SAS report. “This is because the DRC government opted to directly integrate these 22 armed groups (or roughly 20,000 combatants) into the national army and police.”

The national DDR programme ended in September 2011.

“Imperative that a new DDR programme is conceived and implemented… and offer alternative opportunities to rejoin civilian life”

Both processes, DDR and integration into FARDC, have had mixed results, according to analysts. But with the recent implementation of an aggressive UN mandate to “neutralize” all armed groups in the Kivus, there could soon be thousands of combatants exiting rebel ranks – either through defeat or defection – without any real alternatives for livelihoods.

Federico Borello, of the US Senate subcommittee on African Relations, said at a briefing in April that it was “imperative that a new DDR programme is conceived and implemented… and offer alternative opportunities to rejoin civilian life, such as road construction projects or other work opportunities.”

Those opting for integration into the FARDC “should be trained and then deployed into army units throughout the country; they should not remain in units operating in their former area of operation as an armed group,” he said.

In the past such proposals to remove armed group’s from their areas of operation had met fierce resistance, as they deprived former militias from continuing their rent seeking operations, even if they are formally members of the FARDC.

Such an integration initiative, Borello said, should also ensure “those responsible for serious [human rights] abuses are not integrated into the army but instead arrested and brought to justice.”

Integration losing lustre

The integration strategy has been viewed as far from favourable, but even so, the Mai-Mai group Yakutumba is on the cusp of being integrated into the FARDC, according a recent report by the Rift Valley Institute (RVI).

“The one-sided focus on the military integration of rebel groups has failed,” the report said, and it does not address “the issue of impunity for rebel leaders suspected of having committed serious crimes.” 

A Goma-based analyst, who declined to be named, said the experience of integrating the Congrès National pour la Défense du Peuple (CNDP), an allegedly Rwandan-back armed group, had tainted the government’s view of integration.

A 23 March 2009 peace accord signed with CNDP resulted in the group’s integration into the FARDC, but in 2012, former CNDP members said the government had reneged on the deal by failing to provide them agreed-upon military ranks and not paying salaries. The dispute paved the way for the emergence of the M23 militia, named for the 2009 peace deal.

“The DRC [government] does not want integration of armed groups into the army. The international community is pushing for it, but the Congolese don’t want it,” the analyst told IRIN.

The Goma analyst said the aim of integration was to dismantle an armed group’s command structure, but Kinshasa’s haste was greeted with suspicion by the former CNDP military hierarchy. “It would have been best to be gradual. Do it subtly. Send a few [CNDP officers] abroad for training, redeploy some to [the capital] Kinshasa. Do something like that.”

In fact, integration in DRC has seen entire armed groups housed within a single FARDC unit. In such cases, the issuing of FARDC uniforms to former rebels becomes, essentially, camouflage for the lack of government authority.

Instability for security

For Rwanda, the alleged sponsors of M23, having a proxy force a “phone call away” allows them to destabilize the region, the Goma analyst said, which it does “every time the situation improves [in the Kivus].”

Stability in the Kivus was seen as a greater threat to Rwanda’s security than instability, as the latter allowed Rwanda to exert influence in the region, the analyst said.

“The FARDC control the area, but if they [armed groups] come again, I will run as a civilian”

The Kivus’ cycle of violence has left countless young people vulnerable to militia recruitment – both voluntary and involuntary – and to subsequent revolving-door membership in a series of other armed groups.

One 22-year-old former combatant, who declined to be identified, said he joined an armed group voluntarily after witnessing the rape of his sister and mother by CNDP-aligned Mai-Mai combatants. He went on to spend four years serving in armed groups ¬- first the FDLR and then Nyatura, an ethnic Hutu militia. He now has a plan to escape being “recycled” into yet another armed group.

“I am going back to Nyamilima [in North Kivu] to help my mother on the farm,” he told IRIN. “The FARDC control the area, but if they [armed groups] come again, I will run as a civilian.”

 

Source http://www.irinnews.org

 

 

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“Difficult to live” – Goma`s displaced

Posted by African Press International on August 25, 2013

BULENGO,  – If the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) North Kivu capital of Goma were a hotel, there would be a sign hanging on the door with the words “sorry – no vacancies.”
From the 1994 exodus from neighbouring Rwanda, in the wake of the genocide, to interstate wars and decades of insecurity caused by a multitude of armed groups, the city has become the end of the line for those fleeing the country’s conflicts.

The latest influx of internally displaced people (IDPs), fleeing conflict with the allegedly Rwandan-backed armed group M23, is pushing the city to its breaking point.

“Goma is full,” Flora Camain, the Goma-based spokesperson for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), told IRIN. “There’s no room left.”

More to come

In response to continued displacements from across North Kivu, about 30 temporary “spontaneous sites” have been established in the province, using venues ranging from churches and schools to marginal land.

NGOs are providing basic services, such as water and sanitation and primary healthcare, to the burgeoning IDP population. IDPs are also staying with host families in the city.

According to the UN Stabilization Mission in DRC (MONUSCO), “Over one million civilians live in the relatively small area of Goma and Sake and along the road that connects them, where amongst others the Mugunga IDP camps, temporary home to 70,000 people displaced by the conflict, are situated.”

Of the more than two million IDPs in the country, about one million are displaced from South and North Kivu provinces. Spontaneous sites have been established in the North Kivu towns of Goma, Masisi, Rutshuru and Walikale. And the robust mandate afforded to a UN intervention force meant to “neutralize” the more than 30 armed groups in the Kivu provinces is expected to see even more displacements.

IOM, other humanitarian actors and local authorities are currently identifying any available land to accommodate new influxes of IDPs, while at the same time preparing for the eventual return of the displaced should there be an improvement in the region’s security conditions.

Although the displaced plight is high on the agenda of donors, IDPs in spontaneous sites – due to their sheer number and extreme need – often have access to only “minimum assistance,” Camain said.

“Difficult to live”

IOM estimates the population of IDPs living in spontaneous sites in North Kivu is about 231,000 people. One such site is Bulengo, on the outskirts of Goma, where about 58,000 people live.

Aziza Kasidika, 19 and three months pregnant, fled there from North Kivu’s Masisi during fighting between DRC’s national army (FARDC) and armed groups in January 2013. She has since lost contact with her family.

Her home is a crudely constructed “bâche”, about 2m long and just more than half as high. Branches provide a framework for thatch, with a patchwork of plastic bags to try to keep the weather out. A piece of cloth is used for a door, and the bed is a thin mattress of grass on top of volcanic rock.

“I sleep very bad because I sleep on the rock. The bad shelter is a problem, and it’s very difficult to live. I get sick,” she told IRIN. “There should be food distribution twice a month, but it’s only usually once a month. I get rice, maize, beans and oil, and there is never enough salt.”

The absence of adequate shelter is a common complaint in Bulengo, as are the security risks associated with foraging for fuel – needed for both cooking and warmth – beyond the site’s perimeter.

“I don’t know how long I will be here. It’s difficult to see the future. Our only future is the next food hand-out… I will return to Masisi when there is peace – but not that regular peace of two weeks and then war again. I live in Bulengo, and I will stay in Bulengo,” Kasidika said.

Illness, uncertainty

Maria Sankia, 60, fled to Bulengo from Walikale in November 2012, after fighting between the armed groups the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and Raïa Mutomboki – Swahili for “angry citizens”. She came with two of her neighbour’s young children, and cites the same concerns as Kasidika: food distribution, security and poor shelter.

“Children don’t have schooling. There are no toys; there is nothing for the children to do. So many children go to the lake, but they don’t know how to swim. Five or six children have drowned [in Lake Kivu] that I know about since I came here,” she told IRIN.

“This is maybe the fourth time I have run away. But this time was definitely the worst”

Goma-based Christian Reynders, of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), which has established primary healthcare clinics at spontaneous sites, told IRIN that the medical caseload included diarrhoea and malnutrition, but that the predominant issue was respiratory tract infections, a direct consequence of the IDPs’ inadequate shelter.

At MSF’s Majengo clinic, situated in a Goma school where IDPs have taken refuge, Barikurie Kosi, 35, told IRIN, “This is maybe the fourth time I have run away [from Kibati, after M23 entered her village]. But this time was definitely the worst. There was no chance to take anything.”

She fled her home in May and arrived in Goma after a six day walk. She managed to bring her youngest three children, aged two, three and six, but her three teenage children, 13, 15 and 17, “ran in other directions. I don’t know where they are.”

“I don’t know when I will go back,” she said. “I am staying at the clinic.”

go/rz source http://www.irinnews.org

 

 

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Small-scale traders face constant harassment from security forces and corrupt government officials

Posted by African Press International on August 14, 2013

Goma, the capital of the Congolese eastern province of North Kivu, continues to face serious challenges

GOMA, – Three years ago when Jean*, 41, applied for a license to open a hardware shop in Goma, capital of North Kivu Province in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), he had to pay a fee of US$1,500 to the General Tax Directorate, and the whole process took a year.

“Every time I went to the [tax] office, they denied I ever paid the money, yet I had an official receipt from the General Tax Directorate. I had to pay a bribe to get the license,” he told IRIN.

Since opening, Jean has had to contend with different people claiming to be government officials coming regularly to his shop asking him to pay additional taxes.

“Here nothing works because all the time, people come to you saying they are from the General Tax Directorate but they have no identification at all. You just have to pay them. The tax they ask for is never uniform and depends on the mood of the person who comes to collect it,” he added.

Jean’s experience highlights the incapacity, or virtual absence, of state institutions and endemic corruption in this part of DRC.

Another example: The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimates that two thirds of children in North and South Kivu provinces do not have a birth certificate, though you have to have one (in theory at least) to be enrolled in school in the DRC.

But it is not just the lack of an effective state bureaucracy that worries some observers – many health and education services in eastern DRC are funded or controlled by aid agencies.

A March 2013 paper by Koen Vlassenroot and Karen Büscher of the Conflict Research Group argues that in Goma and elsewhere in eastern DRC, power, authority and state sovereignty have been transferred to aid organizations.

“Due to a lack of means, capacity, motivation, vision, corruption and mismanagement, state services have been constantly hollowed out and have increasingly been replaced by new coalitions of local and international development actors.”

One effect “of the humanitarian sector’s presence and interventions is the encouragement of state withdrawal from public services and a transfer of power and legitimacy to the advantage of international actors. This sector has largely taken over education and health care, and even the rehabilitation of road infrastructure,” they said.

For instance, in the provinces of North and South Kivu, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) runs 40 health centres, nine health posts, and four referral clinics and supports 11 government-owned health clinics.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) appealed for nearly US$6 million to fund educational activities in North and South Kivu in 2012; and $9 million for education and 2.8 million for nutrition and water, sanitation and hygiene services for the whole of DRC in 2013.

According to Büscher and Vlassenroot, international aid agencies have replaced the state in key sectors. They say development “is understood locally as a responsibility of the humanitarian sector” – meaning that citizens see development, or the lack of it, as the effort or failure of aid organizations operating in the area.

“Governance by substitution”

Marc-Andre Lagrange, Central Africa senior analyst at the International Crisis Group (ICG), told IRIN: “The Congolese administration based in Kinshasa has chosen governance by substitution in managing the affairs of the country’s eastern region” in which the government appears to have handed over the responsibility of providing services to aid organizations.

Small-scale traders face constant harassment from security forces and corrupt government officials

This, Lagrange argues, is not “something new in DRC as it was the Mobutu regime that introduced that practice of weakening the state apparatus and handing over social services to humanitarian and charitable organizations. Education and health care have long since been taken over by the Catholic Church in most of the country. Organizations such as MSF were present in DRC long before 1994 [and have provided health care since].”

Problems are many

Pacifique Borauzima Buluhukiro, a programme officer in Goma with International Alert, told IRIN: “The roads are in disrepair; electricity is irregular in town and absent in rural areas. Schools and health facilities are in poor condition and are in inaccessible areas [even] for humanitarian organizations.”

Armed groups continue to control large swathes of the region. A result of these conflicts has been the internal displacement of an estimated 2.7 million people, the third largest internal displacement in the world.

“The government doesn’t provide anything”

Those who live in camps around Goma, uprooted from their homes by armed rebel groups, say they do not receive any assistance from the government.

Nadia, a 27-year-old mother of three from Ruthshuru, told IRIN from Mugunga 3, a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) on the outskirts of Goma: “We have no food, water or even [security] and the government doesn’t even visit to see how we live. Only NGOs at times come here to help.”

Lack of access to clean water has made cholera and waterborne diseases endemic. The absence of government investment in the health sector has meant the few clinics, operated mostly by aid agencies, are overstretched and unable to cope.

“At times people come and we just look at them because we don’t have any way of helping them. We have no drugs. At times some organizations offer to help but it is too little and it runs out quickly. The government doesn’t provide anything,” a nurse at a government-owned health facility, told IRIN.

Corruption

A Congolese human rights activist who preferred anonymity told IRIN that even though taxes are levied through the General Tax Directorate, the revenue ends up in the pockets of government officials.

“Corruption in DRC is endemic. The country has an undemocratic, authoritarian and untransparent governance system that supports patronage networks based on the exchange of favours and murky resource transfers”

“Corruption in DRC is endemic. The country has an undemocratic, authoritarian and untransparent governance system that supports patronage networks based on the exchange of favours and murky resource transfers,” Marta Martinelli, a programme officer at the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA), said in a recent report.

A senior civil servant in the North Kivu governor’s office told IRIN political leaders are focused more on retaining political power than providing services.

“The resources available are used to extend political patronage. In the eastern part, the conflict is a good excuse for government officials to say `when there is peace, we will come to help’,” he said.

Francois Rumuzi, a 24-year-old trader in Goma, told IRIN that seeing the poorly paid local police, who do little to protect residents from criminals, is the closest he gets to feeling the government’s presence.

“When you listen to the radio, you hear government officials talk about this or that, but the government doesn’t help people here. Even the police here say they can’t protect us because the government doesn’t pay them,” he said.

Fidel Bafilemaba, a Goma-based researcher with the Enough Project, said the absence of an effective state presence has made eastern DRC the “nerve centre” of what he called DRC’s “non-state status”. He said conflict had exposed “the government’s failure in security, health and education sector reforms”. He said the situation had led many to declare the DRC “a failed state”.

Traditional chiefs

Analysts have accused the government of leaving governance and development to traditional leaders in rural areas, something they say has failed because local chiefs have no constitutionally defined roles.

In a July 2013 analysis entitled Understanding Conflict in Eastern Congo (I): The Ruzizi Plain, ICG said; “The government remains ineffective in rural areas, leaving customary chiefs, whose role is recognised by the constitution but not fully defined, virtually in charge. They use their key position between the state and communities to benefit from any state and international investments and to protect their own interests. This fuels conflict, with intercommunal rivalries playing out in state institutions and among local and national politicians.”

To solve this problem, ICG said the Congolese authorities should “disseminate the laws on customary powers to the population and customary authorities, and train customary chiefs so they can assume their functions in accordance with the law.”

In its 2012 report Ending the Deadlock: Towards a new vision of peace in eastern DRC International Alert argues that for the state to have more legitimacy there needs to be better access to, and management of, land in rural areas; a more rational division and management of political power; better management of returning refugees and IDPs; and recognition of the importance of security.

According to OSISA’s Martinelli, DRC has serious flaws in its democratic system, a weak justice sector, deeply entrenched corruption and a “neglected or non-existent infrastructure, which prevents the effective delivery of public services”.

*not a real name

ko/am/cb source http://www.irinnews.org

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Polio campaigns – Learning to walk

Posted by African Press International on August 13, 2013

Polio survivor Claudine Muhombe, 7, is learning how to walk again

GOMA, 1 – When Linda Lukambo, 21, asked his parents why they had neglected to get him the polio vaccine, “they told me, ‘we did’. So why have I got polio?” he told IRIN in North Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). “Maybe they took me for vaccinations, but maybe not for polio.”

Lukambo first started having difficulty walking while at a pre-school in Tchambucha Village, near the North Kivu town of Walikale. After six months he was, he says, “still walking a little bit. And then I started to move on my bottom, and then on my knees, and it got worse and worse.” By the time he was in primary school he was “crawling on all fours”.

Polio, or poliomyelitis, a highly infectious, viral disease causing paralysis and in some cases death, has been eradicated in most countries through large-scale vaccination programmes. According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) only Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan still have endemic polio transmission. UNICEF, the largest buyer of children’s vaccines in the world, recommends children receive at least three doses of the oral polio vaccine to ensure full immunity against the disease.

DRC is considered an “importation country”, meaning it experiences outbreaks of the disease because of low levels of immunity among the population. Polio eradication campaigns face myriad obstacles, including large-scale population displacements caused by DRC’s persistent conflicts, poor access to isolated communities, religious objections to the vaccine and weak infrastructure.

In 2007, Lukambo had a series of year-long leg-straightening operations at Goma’s public hospital, paid for by local NGO L´Association Congolaise Debout et Fier. (ACDF). ACDF then provided free leg braces, which enabled him to walk upright. He remembers being “very happy – I did not like the ground,” he said.

He has since become the caretaker at the ACDF centre, where polio survivors come for leg brace fittings or to just hang out or sleep over in a non-judgmental environment, as society often treats the disabled with suspicion and prejudice.

Learning to walk

Claudine Muhombe, 7, from Rugare near Masisi, arrived at the centre in April. She now scampers around the centre’s yard, uses the window frames as a climbing frame, and is quickly discovering how to walk with the aid of crutches and braces, also called callipers.

“It’s not difficult to walk,” she told IRIN. “I like walking. My Dad came [in June] to visit. He was very happy when he saw me, and I was happy to see my Dad happy.”

Joseph Kay of StandProud, the international and fundraising arm of ACDF, told IRIN that Claudine’s rapid progress meant she would probably not stay at the centre for long.

Learning to walk with the callipers and crutches can take weeks or months, requiring intensive physiotherapy to regain strength and balance. But even then, not all are able to.

“It was difficult to learn to walk with leg braces. It took a lot of time to learn. I had no strength in my lower back”

Lukambo’s transition from crawling on the floor to standing on his feet was not as swift as Claudine’s. After his leg-straightening operations, the wounds from the surgery continued to weep and would not heal. He had to undergo a skin graft, with skin taken from his thighs for his knees.

The years of crawling also damaged his hip, and an operation was performed to correct it. When he was finally ready to don callipers, it took nearly four months of daily practice to walk upright.

“It was difficult to learn to walk with leg braces. It took a lot of time to learn. I had no strength in my lower back, so I had to wear a corset,” he said.

After a few months of walking, the muscles in his lower back recovered and the corset was discarded, but Goma’s broken streets were an “obstacle course.”

“It’s something you have to get used to… But I am at the same level now as other people,” Lukambo said.

Polio campaigns

The first polio vaccination campaigns in the country began in the mid-1980s. At one stage, after no cases were recorded between 2001 and 2005, polio was considered eradicated in DRC.

In 2008, after an “epidemiological situation evolved in the central African region,” resulting in dozens of new infections in the country, the government and donors announced a polio vaccination programme targeting seven million children.

A polio survivor at l´Association Congolaise Debout et Fier centre in Goma doing chores

Emmanuel Nomo, UNICEF’s DRC polio team leader, recently told IRIN there had been no registered cases of polio in the country since December 2011.

“Authorities, vaccination teams and parents are doing the best they can to reach all children everywhere, including in the Kivus, despite the challenge of insecurity and lacking access,” he said.

This August, during the country’s National Immunization Day (NID), officials will hold a second round of vaccinations targeting 1,374,836 children up to five years old in North Kivu and 1,144,750 in South Kivu. According to independent monitoring by the World Health Organization (WHO), 3.5 percent of targeted children in North Kivu were missed in the July first round of vaccinations, while in South Kivu the number was 5 percent.

“During the July NID, insecurity – active fighting in some health zones – did not allow the vaccination teams to do their job” in the North Kivu health zones of Kamango, in three health areas in Binza, and three health areas in South Kivu’s Molungu, said Nomo.

“Even though the situation remains difficult in both Kivus, the second [round] of the NID is scheduled to take place throughout both provinces,” he said.

Nomo said issues with maintaining the cold chain, the system of temperature controls required to keep vaccines potent, were being addressed through the introduction of solar fridges by the government, with support from UNICEF, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), and the World Bank. Currently, only 30 percent of the country’s health centres have a functioning refrigerator.

“Providing good quality vaccines at the beneficiary level remains a challenge,” he said.

Calliper production

StandProud (founded in 1998) has established centres in Bunia, Butembo, Goma, Kalemie, Lubumbashi and Kinshasa.

“We’ve made thousands and thousands of callipers. Hard to know exactly how many since 1998, but there are at least 5,000 individuals who have benefited over the years,” Kay said.

“I have made a lot [of leg braces]. I don’t know how many, but many, many, many”

Louis Nwande-Muhala, a calliper technician at the Goma centre, says it takes about two days to construct the custom-made leg braces – if there is electricity and the materials are available. The braces are made of steel, with leather used for the joints and hip support. The workshop also does repairs on braces, which have to deal with the country’s broken streets.

Nwande-Muhala’s left leg was paralysed at the age of five, not from polio, but from a quinine injection into his hip muscles, an old treatment for malaria that is still practised by some nurses despite the availability of safer treatments.

He first encountered the NGO when he wanted to acquire a leg brace. After being fitted for the brace, he decided to give up his tailoring job to make callipers. “I have made a lot [of leg braces]. I don’t know how many, but many, many, many.”

go/rz/cb source http://www.irinnews.org

 

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Right abuses by DRC army and others

Posted by African Press International on July 31, 2013

GOMA,  – As fighting continues in North Kivu Province between the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) army and the rebel group M23, both sides have been accused of committing human rights abuses against each other and civilians, some of which amount to war crimes, according to rights groups. 

Earlier this year, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported the M23 rebel movement in eastern DRC had committed war crimes; a second major report by HRW, released 22 July, finds M23’s war crimes have continued.

Summarizing the report’s findings, lead author Ida Sawyer told IRIN: “What we’ve documented is that war crimes committed by M23 fighters have continued since March, and those crimes include summary executions of at least 44 people, and rapes of at least 61 women and girls, and forced recruitment of scores of young men and boys.”

Meanwhile, HRW, a report of the UN Secretary-General and other sources allege the Congolese army has also committed abuses, ranging from the desecration of corpses to mass rape and the killing of civilians.

The M23 rebellion began in April 2012, with the DRC army and M23 clashing intermittently since then. The most recent spate of violence began on 14 July in areas around Mutaho, Kanyarucinya, Kibati and in the mountains near Ndosho, a few kilometres from Goma, the provincial capital. M23 currently controls the areas of Rutshuru and Nyiragongo.

The group came into existence when hundreds of mainly ethnic Tutsi soldiers of the Congolese army mutinied over poor living conditions and poor pay. Most of the mutineers had been members of the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), another armed group that in 2009 signed a deal with the government, which the dissidents felt Kinshasa had not fully implemented.

M23 response

In a September 2012 report on M23, HRW accused the group of deliberately killing at least 15 civilians since June and of executing 33 of its own combatants.

In its latest report, the group alleges that 15 civilians were killed by M23 over two days in April, and a further six were killed in June in reprisals for alleged collaboration with Congolese militias.

It says other civilians killed by the movement included a man who refused to hand his sons over to the rebels, a motorcycle driver who refused to give them money, and recruits caught trying to escape. It also reports that M23 tortured prisoners of war, including two who were killed.

HRW did not include any comments or reactions from M23 in its latest report.

Sawyer said her organization had arranged to interview M23 leader Sultani Makenga about its findings, but fighting broke out on the day of the interview. Makenga cancelled and was subsequently unavailable for a phone interview, Sawyer said.

Speaking to IRIN, M23 spokesman Kabasha Amani said: “When Human Rights Watch says people have disappeared in the territory we control, why doesn’t it give the names of those people?”

He dismissed the findings as rumours, describing the DRC as “a country of rumours”.

A lawyer working with M23, John Muhire, said that since the NGO has not given names of victims or the precise location of the supposed crimes, “they don’t mention anything which really can be a proof that the crime has been committed”.

Muhire accused a Congolese NGO that carried out field work for HRW of being biased against M23, adding that the rebel group had asked for a “neutral” investigation supervised by the UN.

HRW and other sources report that M23 has threatened to kill people who speak out against the movement; the organization does not name victims or precise locations of crimes to protect sources from possible harm.

The report has also been criticized by Rwanda – accused by Human Rights Watch of supporting M23, a charge Rwanda has denied – for wrongly stating that Rwandan soldiers had served with the peacekeeping contingent in Somalia. HRW published a correction but stood by its findings.

“We are very confident with our findings,” Sawyer told IRIN. “What we’ve included in our report is only the information that we have confirmed with several credible witnesses. We rely on information from eyewitnesses who were present during the events – victims and witnesses to abuses. We do very in-depth interviews with all the people we speak to, to document this, and we don’t include information that we think may be biased.”

As an example of information not included, Sawyer cited a claim by the UN Stabilization Mission in DRC (MONUSCO) that M23 had executed 26 farmers in two localities between June 16 and 19, allegations for which the NGO could not find sufficient evidence.

Right abuses by DRC army and others

M23 was the main focus of the report, which deals exclusively with abuses within the zone that M23 tried to control and with evidence of Rwandan support for the group.

But M23 is not the only armed group operating within this zone, and the report includes a brief mention of abuses – three people killed and four raped – by another armed group, the Popular Movement for Self-Defence (Mouvement populaire d’autodéfense or MPA) in the same area since March.

“The corpses of M23 fighters killed in combat on July 16 in a degrading manner, stripping them, making ethnic slurs, and prodding their genitals with weapons”

It also notes that, according to the UN Group of Experts on Congo, Congolese army personnel have recently supplied ammunition to the Rwandan rebel group Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), which HRW says has long been committing “horrific abuses” against civilians in eastern DRC.

Additionally, a press release accompanying the HRW report referred to Congolese army soldiers treating “the corpses of M23 fighters killed in combat on July 16 in a degrading manner, stripping them, making ethnic slurs, and prodding their genitals with weapons”, an incident seen in widely circulated photos. The press release also refers to allegations the army harshly treated M23 combatants captured in recent fighting.

On 17 July, the army arrested a lieutenant in connection with the desecration of the M23 fighters’ corpses.

Col Olivier Hamuli, a DRC army spokesman, said the army condemned such behaviour, and added that the incident should be seen in context, as the actions of men suffering from “combat stress”.

The UN Secretary-General’s latest report on MONUSCO includes further references to abuses by Congolese army units in recent months. It highlights a mass rape, allegedly of more than 200 women, by Congolese troops at Minova, in South Kivu, in November 2012, and the killing of at least 27 civilians and the wounding of 89 others in clashes between the army and an armed group at Kitchanga, in North Kivu, in late February and early March.

UN and local sources told IRIN that most of the deaths at Kitchanga were attributable to the army’s use of heavy weapons in a town centre. The army unit involved was led by a colonel who had fought alongside M23 leaders in a previous rebellion and was alleged to be still in alliance with them.

A recent bombing raid by Congolese army aircraft against an M23 military camp at Rumangabo also caused several civilian casualties, according to M23. The UN noted that M23 caused several civilian casualties in Goma when its shells landed in a displaced people’s camp and other locations in the city suburbs in May and again this month.

Reporting “uneven”

Sources within MONUSCO commented that reporting of human rights abuses in DRC is uneven, tending to focus on more accessible areas and on groups – like M23 – which are considered to be a regional threat to peace.

Alleged abuses by other armed groups and by some units of the Congolese army may be under-reported compared to those attributed to M23. Complaints in December and January by a civil society organization in Tongo, North Kivu, alleging that an army unit there had been responsible for 93 rapes and eight murders over a six-month period have still not elicited an official response; MONUSCO could give no details of its investigation into these allegations.

Nevertheless, the Congolese army has suspended 12 senior officers and arrested 11 suspects in connection with the mass rapes at Minova. Nationally, the proportion of alleged rights abuses by the army that lead to prosecution has been increasing in the past few years.

Figures from MONUSCO show between July 2010 and July 2011, there were 224 convictions of DRC military personnel or police for serious human rights abuses (about half involving sexual violence), a big increase over previous years.

M23, which recently claimed to have appointed criminal investigators in its territory and to be carrying out trials, has yet to announce the results of any investigations of alleged abuses by its personnel. In reality, says MONUSCO, M23 has no real capacity to hold trials as there are no magistrates in its zone.

Civilians told IRIN that, in some cases, people accused of crimes by the rebels had already been put on trial. Some of them had been imprisoned, one civilian said, speaking just out of earshot of an M23 combatant.

“And some of them were killed,” he added quietly.

Another civilian said: “Those who are arrested and can pay a fine can be freed. As for those who can’t pay a fine, they can be put on forced labour or killed.”

An estimated 900,000 people are displaced in North Kivu, more than half of them by the M23 rebellion; tens of thousands more have fled across the DRC’s borders with Rwanda and Uganda.

nl/kr/rz  source http://www.irinnews.org

 

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Human Rights abuses on the rise As fighting continues in North Kivu Province

Posted by African Press International on July 30, 2013

The rebels are accused of summary executions, rape and forcible recruitment (file photo)

GOMA,  – As fighting continues in North Kivu Province between the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) army and the rebel group M23, both sides have been accused of committing human rights abuses against each other and civilians, some of which amount to war crimes, according to rights groups.

Earlier this year, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported the M23 rebel movement in eastern DRC had committed war crimes; a second major report by HRW, released 22 July, finds M23’s war crimes have continued.

Summarizing the report’s findings, lead author Ida Sawyer told IRIN: “What we’ve documented is that war crimes committed by M23 fighters have continued since March, and those crimes include summary executions of at least 44 people, and rapes of at least 61 women and girls, and forced recruitment of scores of young men and boys.”

Meanwhile, HRW, a report of the UN Secretary-General and other sources allege the Congolese army has also committed abuses, ranging from the desecration of corpses to mass rape and the killing of civilians.

The M23 rebellion began in April 2012, with the DRC army and M23 clashing intermittently since then. The most recent spate of violence began on 14 July in areas around Mutaho, Kanyarucinya, Kibati and in the mountains near Ndosho, a few kilometres from Goma, the provincial capital. M23 currently controls the areas of Rutshuru and Nyiragongo.

The group came into existence when hundreds of mainly ethnic Tutsi soldiers of the Congolese army mutinied over poor living conditions and poor pay. Most of the mutineers had been members of the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), another armed group that in 2009 signed a deal with the government, which the dissidents felt Kinshasa had not fully implemented.

M23 response

In a September 2012 report on M23, HRW accused the group of deliberately killing at least 15 civilians since June and of executing 33 of its own combatants.

In its latest report, the group alleges that 15 civilians were killed by M23 over two days in April, and a further six were killed in June in reprisals for alleged collaboration with Congolese militias.

It says other civilians killed by the movement included a man who refused to hand his sons over to the rebels, a motorcycle driver who refused to give them money, and recruits caught trying to escape. It also reports that M23 tortured prisoners of war, including two who were killed.

HRW did not include any comments or reactions from M23 in its latest report.

Sawyer said her organization had arranged to interview M23 leader Sultani Makenga about its findings, but fighting broke out on the day of the interview. Makenga cancelled and was subsequently unavailable for a phone interview, Sawyer said.

Speaking to IRIN, M23 spokesman Kabasha Amani said: “When Human Rights Watch says people have disappeared in the territory we control, why doesn’t it give the names of those people?”

He dismissed the findings as rumours, describing the DRC as “a country of rumours”.

A lawyer working with M23, John Muhire, said that since the NGO has not given names of victims or the precise location of the supposed crimes, “they don’t mention anything which really can be a proof that the crime has been committed”.

Muhire accused a Congolese NGO that carried out field work for HRW of being biased against M23, adding that the rebel group had asked for a “neutral” investigation supervised by the UN.

HRW and other sources report that M23 has threatened to kill people who speak out against the movement; the organization does not name victims or precise locations of crimes to protect sources from possible harm.

The report has also been criticized by Rwanda – accused by Human Rights Watch of supporting M23, a charge Rwanda has denied – for wrongly stating that Rwandan soldiers had served with the peacekeeping contingent in Somalia. HRW published a correction but stood by its findings.

“We are very confident with our findings,” Sawyer told IRIN. “What we’ve included in our report is only the information that we have confirmed with several credible witnesses. We rely on information from eyewitnesses who were present during the events – victims and witnesses to abuses. We do very in-depth interviews with all the people we speak to, to document this, and we don’t include information that we think may be biased.”

As an example of information not included, Sawyer cited a claim by the UN Stabilization Mission in DRC (MONUSCO) that M23 had executed 26 farmers in two localities between June 16 and 19, allegations for which the NGO could not find sufficient evidence.

Right abuses by DRC army and others

M23 was the main focus of the report, which deals exclusively with abuses within the zone that M23 tried to control and with evidence of Rwandan support for the group.

But M23 is not the only armed group operating within this zone, and the report includes a brief mention of abuses – three people killed and four raped – by another armed group, the Popular Movement for Self-Defence (Mouvement populaire d’autodéfense or MPA) in the same area since March.

“The corpses of M23 fighters killed in combat on July 16 in a degrading manner, stripping them, making ethnic slurs, and prodding their genitals with weapons”

It also notes that, according to the UN Group of Experts on Congo, Congolese army personnel have recently supplied ammunition to the Rwandan rebel group Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), which HRW says has long been committing “horrific abuses” against civilians in eastern DRC.

Additionally, a press release accompanying the HRW report referred to Congolese army soldiers treating “the corpses of M23 fighters killed in combat on July 16 in a degrading manner, stripping them, making ethnic slurs, and prodding their genitals with weapons”, an incident seen in widely circulated photos. The press release also refers to allegations the army harshly treated M23 combatants captured in recent fighting.

On 17 July, the army arrested a lieutenant in connection with the desecration of the M23 fighters’ corpses.

Col Olivier Hamuli, a DRC army spokesman, said the army condemned such behaviour, and added that the incident should be seen in context, as the actions of men suffering from “combat stress”.

The UN Secretary-General’s latest report on MONUSCO includes further references to abuses by Congolese army units in recent months. It highlights a mass rape, allegedly of more than 200 women, by Congolese troops at Minova, in South Kivu, in November 2012, and the killing of at least 27 civilians and the wounding of 89 others in clashes between the army and an armed group at Kitchanga, in North Kivu, in late February and early March.

UN and local sources told IRIN that most of the deaths at Kitchanga were attributable to the army’s use of heavy weapons in a town centre. The army unit involved was led by a colonel who had fought alongside M23 leaders in a previous rebellion and was alleged to be still in alliance with them.

A recent bombing raid by Congolese army aircraft against an M23 military camp at Rumangabo also caused several civilian casualties, according to M23. The UN noted that M23 caused several civilian casualties in Goma when its shells landed in a displaced people’s camp and other locations in the city suburbs in May and again this month.

Reporting “uneven”

Sources within MONUSCO commented that reporting of human rights abuses in DRC is uneven, tending to focus on more accessible areas and on groups – like M23 – which are considered to be a regional threat to peace.

Alleged abuses by other armed groups and by some units of the Congolese army may be under-reported compared to those attributed to M23. Complaints in December and January by a civil society organization in Tongo, North Kivu, alleging that an army unit there had been responsible for 93 rapes and eight murders over a six-month period have still not elicited an official response; MONUSCO could give no details of its investigation into these allegations.

Nevertheless, the Congolese army has suspended 12 senior officers and arrested 11 suspects in connection with the mass rapes at Minova. Nationally, the proportion of alleged rights abuses by the army that lead to prosecution has been increasing in the past few years.

Figures from MONUSCO show between July 2010 and July 2011, there were 224 convictions of DRC military personnel or police for serious human rights abuses (about half involving sexual violence), a big increase over previous years.

M23, which recently claimed to have appointed criminal investigators in its territory and to be carrying out trials, has yet to announce the results of any investigations of alleged abuses by its personnel. In reality, says MONUSCO, M23 has no real capacity to hold trials as there are no magistrates in its zone.

Civilians told IRIN that, in some cases, people accused of crimes by the rebels had already been put on trial. Some of them had been imprisoned, one civilian said, speaking just out of earshot of an M23 combatant.

“And some of them were killed,” he added quietly.

Another civilian said: “Those who are arrested and can pay a fine can be freed. As for those who can’t pay a fine, they can be put on forced labour or killed.”

An estimated 900,000 people are displaced in North Kivu, more than half of them by the M23 rebellion; tens of thousands more have fled across the DRC’s borders with Rwanda and Uganda.

nl/kr/rz  source http://www.irinnews.org

 

 

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North Kivu sees fresh clashes: What’s happening with the Kampala talks?

Posted by African Press International on July 21, 2013

Talks have stalled as fighting continues (file photo)

KAMPALA/GOMA,  – Fresh fighting between the rebel M23 and the army of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in the eastern province of North Kivu could spell the end of efforts to reach a negotiated settlement to the conflict, analysts say.

In what have been described as some of the deadliest clashes since the rebellion began in April 2012, FARDC (the DRC army) and M23 have been fighting since 14 July in areas around Mutaho, Kanyarucinya, Kibati and in the mountains near Ndosho, a few kilometres from Goma, the provincial capital.

An estimated 900,000 people are displaced in North Kivu, more than half of them by the M23 rebellion; tens of thousands more have fled across the DRC’s borders with Rwanda and Uganda. Humanitarians continue to flag the issue of civilian protection in and around Goma, where fighting over the past year has displaced more than 100,000.

IRIN has put together a briefing on recent developments in the talks and the conflict.

What’s happening with the Kampala talks?

A new round of peace talks between the two sides in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, has stalled, with Raymond Tshibanda, the DRC foreign minister and head of the government delegation, and Apollinaire Malu Malu, his deputy, absent from the venue.

The talks, which kicked off in December 2012 under the auspices of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), first broke down in April: M23 representatives walked out following a decision by the UN to deploy an intervention brigade to neutralize armed groups in eastern DRC.

“The two sides are still extremely far apart in their negotiating positions and a compromise is difficult to envision without hefty intervention by diplomats. So fighting is almost inevitable, even if only to improve negotiating positions,” Jason Stearns, director of the Rift Valley Institute‘s (RVI),Usalama Project, which conducts research on armed groups in eastern DRC.

“The Kampala talks are moribund. I can’t envision a deal acceptable to the M23 that foreign diplomats and the Congolese government could sign off on; the M23 would have to disband and reintegrate into the national army, which its leaders will find difficult to stomach, as they don’t trust the government.”

Each side accuses the other of not being sufficiently committed to reaching a diplomatic settlement to the conflict.

“It depends on whether M23 is ready to accept on what has been decided in Addis Ababa and [with] UN for them to disarm. If they accept, we are ready to finalize the Kampala process,” DRC government spokesperson Lambert Mende Omalanga told IRIN by phone.

On 24 February, 11 African countries signed a Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the DRC and the Region, aimed at, among other things, improving security and consolidating the state’s authority in eastern DRC.

What are the accusations being traded?

But Omalanga accused Rwanda of continued influence over M23, a charge both the Rwandan government and M23 strenuously deny.

“Kinshasa is not interested in the talks, but a military option. We have been here seeking for a bilateral ceasefire. But government has since refused and prepared for the ongoing war,” Rene Abandi, the head of M23’s delegation, told IRIN. “It’s playing double standards… trying both methods – peace talks and military solution.”

“It may sound like a paradox but, for peace negotiations to start, the balance of power on the ground must be changed. The two parties [M23 and the DRC army] will only negotiate if they lose on the battlefield.”

Abandi added that until the head of the government delegation or his deputy arrived, M23 would not negotiate, and called on the ICGLR, the African Union and the UN to put pressure on Kinshasa to actively participate in the talks.

“Long before the resumption of fighting, the Kampala peace talks have had a bleak future. Over the course of the last seven months, the warring parties have employed deliberate delaying tactics, militaristic bluster and traded fierce accusations of foul play as a means of furthering narrow political agendas,” Timo Mueller, Goma-based field researcher for the Enough Project, which fights genocide and crimes against humanity, told IRIN.

“As the fighting rekindled on Sunday [14 July], some analysts see a direct relationship between the deadlock in Kampala and the renewed fighting. But while the fighting is a near-death experience for the talks, both parties have an interest in keeping the talks alive so as to be seen as willing to seek political peace, albeit crippled they may be.”

He added: “The rhetoric and actions of the Congolese army reflect a consistent strategy to pursue only military confrontation with M23 on the battlefield and forego any existing political efforts. But while military actions undermine and contradict the talks, Congo has no interest in unilaterally withdrawing from an initiative strongly favoured by the international community.

“M23, will desperately hold onto the talks to present itself as a grievance-driven group eager to discuss political reforms with Kinshasa and because it is too weak militarily to advance its interests outside political avenues. The talks offer the only existing avenue for M23 to deliver agreement on amnesty for senior leadership and military reintegration into FARDC, something that the UN PSCF [the Peace, Security, and Cooperation Framework] or any other international process would be unlikely to yield. Both parties will remain at loggerheads for the foreseeable future, leaving scant hope for a genuine peace agreement.”

Could fighting spur talks?

According to Thierry Vircoulon, an analyst with the think tank International Crisis Group, “It may sound like a paradox but, for peace negotiations to start, the balance of power on the ground must be changed. The two parties will only negotiate if they lose on the battlefield. Kinshasa accepted to come to the Kampala talks only because it lost Goma last year and was dominated on the ground.”

But Usalama’s Stearns says neither side is keen to escalate the ongoing conflict. “The M23 is limited by its troop numbers, which are probably still under 2,000, with a large area to cover. For the Congolese army, they would probably want to wait until the UN Intervention Brigade is fully operational, which could take another month.”

3,000-strong intervention brigade mandated to “neutralize… and disarm” armed groups in eastern DRC is due to be fully operational at the end of July. The UN Stabilization Mission in DRC, MONUSCO, also intends to have unarmed surveillance drones in eastern DRC to monitor developments.

How much support is there for talks?

The problem in eastern DRC is primarily political, and “no amount of military power can solve it,” Lt-Col Paddy Ankunda, Uganda army spokesman and spokesman for the talks, told IRIN.

“The causes of the M23 rebellion and the wider conflict are a mesh of political, socioeconomic and security factors. A political, non-military solution is needed, including, amongst others, security sector reform, democratization, decentralization, human development, reform of the minerals sector and regional economic integration,” said the Enough Project’s Mueller. “The Kampala peace talks should best be subsumed by the UN PSCF. It will also be critical to get Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda together to start negotiations to deal with economic and security issues that have been driving the war.”

Fighting between FARDC and M23 has already displaced half a million people (file photo)

“[UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy to the Great Lakes] Mary Robinson must also ensure that the Congolese reform process and national Congolese dialogue are mediated by an impartial facilitator and have civil society directly at the table. If the process is not neutral and inclusive, the reforms will fail,” he added. “Another behind-the-door deal among elites will be just another recipe for failure, likely brewing new dissent and stoking a wholesale resurgence of violence.”

In eastern DRC, however, not everyone is keen on a peaceful solution to the crisis. Kabila has repeatedly done deals with rebels as a way of ending national and local conflicts, and has been criticized for this by oppositionists, civil society and national media. “Give war a chance” has been a popular refrain with many fierce critics of the regime.

Is there any unanimity on the ground?

“We think the government should crush the M23 rebellion,” Thomas d’Aquin Muiti, president of The Civil Society of North Kivu (an association of NGOs working for better governance in the province), told IRIN, although privately, some of his colleagues deplored his statements.

Kabila’s recent pursuit of the military option against the M23 certainly appears to have the support of many ordinary people in Goma. There were jubilant scenes on 15 July when it was learned that FARDC had retaken a hill overlooking Goma from which the rebels had threatened to target the airport. Crowds of men waving leafy branches did victory runs on the outskirts of the town, and rumours that MONUSCO was trying to block a further advance by the army prompted angry demonstrations outside a UN base.

A group of women who had been displaced by the fighting voiced strong support for FARDC when asked by IRIN what they thought of its offensive. “We will be very happy to see our village liberated and we hope the army will do it,” said 44-year-old Fouraha Kanamu to a loud chorus of approval from the other women.

But condemnation of M23 is not unanimous in Goma. Thousands gathered and cheered the rebels after they briefly occupied the city in November 2012 and organized a rally in a stadium. Many of these people were government employees who were hoping the M23 would pay them, but even before the rebel takeover some citizens were quietly expressing support for the movement.

“They can’t be any worse than those in power now,” was the kind of comment heard from some people, who would claim that the Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD) rebels – a Rwandan-backed movement that occupied eastern Congo during DRC’s second civil war (1998-2003) – had at least provided better policing and road maintenance in Goma.

The M23 makes much of the DRC government’s notorious corruption and incompetence, but has never held any elections, and judging by the electoral record of its predecessor movement, the CNDP (National Congress for the Defence of the People, which won just one seat in the 2011 national elections) would be unlikely to win many votes.

However, M23’s behaviour during the 10 days that it controlled Goma alienated many erstwhile sympathizers. “They plundered government offices, officials’ houses and even a hospital, so we saw they weren’t really interested in better governance,” said one civilian.

so/nl/kr/cb source http://www.irinnews.org

 

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Outcry in Uganda due to influx of unexpected refugees

Posted by African Press International on July 19, 2013

Uganda unprepared for influx of DRC refugees

More refugees are expected as fighting continues in the DRC (file photo)

KAMPALA,  – Some 66,000 Congolese refugees have crossed into Uganda in recent days, following fighting between Ugandan rebel group Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) and the Democratic Republic of Congo‘s (DRC) national army (FARDC). Their arrival has left the Ugandan government and humanitarian agencies struggling to meet the refugees’ needs amid funding challenges.

“The situation is very dire. It’s overwhelming… given the massive arrivals of these refugees, and sudden number of this nature, in an area with very limited preparedness to extend humanitarian assistance,” Mohammed Adar, country representative for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Uganda, told IRIN. “We don’t have the infrastructure to support this huge influx of this scale in an area [where] we didn’t have [a] presence in the past.”

Uganda already hosts more than 200,000 refugees and asylum seekers, over 60 percent of whom are from DRC.

The new refugees are in the western Ugandan town of Bundibugyo, where they are occupying five primary schools and other sites; they have been arriving since 11 July, when fighting broke out close to DRC’s border with Uganda.

Over-stretched resources

“These [Bundibugyo] villages were empty. They didn’t have any facilities. We are putting up water systems, sanitation, shelter, and providing food,” Charles Bafaki, a senior settlement officer with the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), which is coordinating the emergency response, told IRIN by telephone.

UNHCR says only 29 percent of its US$93.8 million operating budget for Uganda this year was funded by 19 June. “We appeal for financial assistance from donors and international community to support this huge influx of refugees,” Adar said. “The international community and donors have a responsibility to help Uganda share this burden.”

The ADF was formed in the mid-1990s in the Rwenzori mountain range in western Uganda, close to the country’s border with DRC. The rebellion was largely contained in Uganda by 2000, with reportedly just about 100 fighters finding refuge in DRC’s North Kivu Province. However, the Ugandan government has recently reported that the group is recruiting and training  – with the support of Somali Islamist militants Al-Shabab – in eastern DRC.

On 15 July, officials said they were struggling to relocate the refugees to a newly established transit centre, near Bubukwanga Subcounty, Bundibugyo District, about 28km from the DRC-Uganda border. “They are currently occupying schools, churches, people[’s] gardens, verandas, and causing tremendous problems for the host community,” UNHCR’s Adar said.

The agencies say the refugees are in dire need of humanitarian assistance and relief services.

“While food and supplies have arrived, the huge numbers of people and their wide distribution has made it difficult to provide services,” Adar added. “The main concerns at this point are water, health and sanitation, and shelter.”

The UN World Food Programme has delivered enough food for 20,000 people for five days, and more food is expected to arrive, UNHCR said in astatement issued on 15 July.

Uganda’s military says it has beefed up security at the DRC-Uganda border to ensure the ADF rebels do not infiltrate the country.

More refugees on the way

Meanwhile, UNHCR also says it has experienced an increase in the number of Congolese refugees crossing into Uganda’s southwestern district of Kisoro, following fresh fighting near North Kivu’s provincial capital, Goma, between the M23 rebel group and FARDC troops. According to Congolese officials, an attack by M23 on 14 July was repelled by FARDC; however, fighting continued on 15 July.

“The situation near Goma is a big concern. It’s definitely going to cause problem for us,” UNHCR’s Adar said. “We have received over 1,000 refugees at our transit centre in Kisoro in the last few days. These are coming in as a preventive measure. We expect more new arrivals to cross as a result of the Goma situation.”

so/kr/rz source http://www.irinnews.org

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Talking peace for DRC: M23 Kampala talks set to resume

Posted by African Press International on June 22, 2013

The M23 rebellion has displaced hundreds of thousands in North Kivu

KAMPALA,  – Delegates representing the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the rebel M23 are back in Kampala, Uganda, for a fresh round of peace talks, but analysts say that unless both sides are fully committed to the negotiations, a political solution to the crisis in the DRC’s North Kivu Province is unlikely.

The talks, which kicked off in December 2012 under the auspices of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), broke down in April; M23 representatives walked out following a decision by the UN to deploy an intervention brigade to neutralize armed groups in eastern DRC. The UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations says the 3,069-strong force, comprising troops from Malawi, South Africa and Tanzania, should be fully operational by mid-July. The force has been given a more forceful mandate than any previous military contingent with a UN peacekeeping mission.

“The representatives of both delegations are back here in Kampala. The talks will be resuming any time. We hope there will be commitment by both teams this time round,” Crispus Kiyonga, the chief mediator and Uganda‘s Minister of Defence, told IRIN. “We shall be working towards the signing of the peace agreement. But how soon it will be reached depends on the progress and commitment of both parties. The fact that both parties keep coming and going back shows some commitment.”

On a recent visit to DRC, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon and his special envoy to the region, former Irish President Mary Robinson, urged both parties to remain committed to the Kampala-mediated talks.

An estimated 900,000 people are displaced in North Kivu, more than half of them by the M23 rebellion; tens of thousands more have fled across the DRC’s borders with Rwanda and Uganda. Humanitarians continue to flag the issue of civilian protection even as the DRC national army (FARDC) and M23 engage in intermittent battles in and around the provincial capital Goma, where fighting over the past year has displaced more than 100,000.

In May, four days of fighting between the government and the rebels saw thousands flee their homes for overcrowded camps on the outskirts of the city.

Commitment

Some regional analysts are suspicious of M23’s return to negotiations.

“The M23’s return to the negotiation table should be seen first and foremost as a PR [public relations] manoeuvre. The movement wants to show that it is seeking peace by all means,” said Michel Thill, Great Lakes Region programme manager at Rift Valley Institute (RVI). “Its demands, however, are well beyond what Kinshasa would agree to negotiate with what they consider terrorists – the M23 knows that.

“The tensions are mounting between the M23, the FARDC and the civil population in North Kivu, in the face of repetitive claims by UN senior officials and the Secretary-General himself that the international brigade will be deployed in mid-July,” he added. “The renewed fighting in late May just before Ban Ki-Moon’s visit to Goma proves this.”

Other analysts see it differently: “The return from M23 to the negotiation table is a sign from M23 and its external support they want to solve the crisis politically. M23 does not receive the same support as in November 2012 and is no longer in a position to take Goma or conduct an aggressive war,” said Marc-Andre Lagrange, DRC senior analyst for the think tank International Crisis Group (ICG). “Another question is how strong the M23 really is at the moment. There are rumours that Sultani Makenga [M23’s military leader] is seriously ill and weak… It remains to be seen if the movement stands up to the current pressure.”

Both the rebels and the government say a military solution is not feasible

M23 representatives deny that Makenga is unwell. They also accuse the DRC government of lacking the will to negotiate a peaceful solution to the crisis in North Kivu, and of preparing FARDC and its allies for further clashes in the region.

“We have to seize this opportunity of the international community’s commitment to end this rebellion through dialogue. The military option can’t end the conflict,” Rene Abandi, the head of M23’s Kampala delegation, told IRIN.

In a 13 June letter to Special Envoy Robinson, the rebels accused the government of refusing to negotiate at the Kampala peace talks and of preparing for further conflict in North Kivu, claims government officials have denied.

“Their allegations are baseless,” Jean Charles Okoto Lulakombe, DRC ambassador to Uganda, told IRIN. “Some members of the government delegation are already here, and some are coming. We are determined to end this conflict through dialogue. We believe it is only the talks that can end this conflict, not military [methods]. We can’t continue to allow our people to suffer and die because of this conflict.”

Beyond talks

But analysts agree that it will take more than peace talks – and even peace agreements – to solve the problems in eastern DRC.

“I think a return to Kampala without a genuine commitment from both sides to address the root causes of the conflict, reasons for continuity and failures of past talks is a waste of time and money. It’s simply a peace joke,” said Stephen Oola, a transitional justice and governance analyst at Uganda’s Makerere University’s Refugee Law Project.

“DRC needs more than just peace talks. There is need for a shift in how the state fulfils its obligation to citizens and how local resources are accessed and utilized locally, nationally and internationally,” he added.

“Anyone interested in returning peace to the DRC should focus on strengthening the Congolese government, not undermining it… There must be investment in ensuring that the government in Kinshasa is both legitimate and strong enough to have full control of its vast territory,” said Nicholas Opiyo, a Kampala-based legal and political analyst. “The internal governance framework of the DRC must be re-engineered to be both accommodative of the various interests in the DRC and meaningful to the majority – if not all – Congolese.”

“The solution for peace in the Kivus is not just political or only military. Economic cooperation has to be put in place between the countries of the Great Lakes,” said ICG’s Lagrange. “At the same time, minorities have to be protected and land issues solved. This can be achieved through politics.”

so/kr/rz source http://www.irinnews.og

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There is concern about new DRC Intervention Brigade

Posted by African Press International on June 1, 2013

Photo: MONUSCO
Tanzanian UN Intervention Brigade commander Brig-Gen James Makibolwa shakes hands with Tanzanian troops

GOMA,  – Nineteen international NGOs have sent a joint letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to express concern over the peace process in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and future military operations by a new UN Intervention Brigade.

The letter, dated 23 May and made public this week, asks the secretary-general to call on the 11 African states that signed the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework (PSCF) in Addis Ababa in February to implement the agreement, and to work with UN Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Mary Robinson.

The letter also recommends that the UN Security Council “should seriously consider suspension of the [UN Intervention] Brigade if it does not perform well or if the Congolese government does not make sufficient progress in implementing its commitments under the PSCF” agreement.

The brigade of 3,069 troops from Tanzania, South Africa and Malawi, which the UN peacekeeping department says should be operational by mid-July, has been given a more offensive mandate than any previous contingent with a UN peacekeeping mission. UN Security Council Resolution 2098 empowers it to carry out “targeted and robust offensives… with a view to neutralizing and disarming armed groups”, whilst “taking into account the necessity to protect civilians and reduce risks”.

The NGOs’ letter asks Ban for his leadership “in ensuring that the operations of the Brigade… are clearly linked to the realization of the PSCF” and that it “is part of a broad, comprehensive approach to achieve long-term peace and stability”.

The NGOs also call on Ban to ensure that “planning and conduct of the Brigade’s operations prioritize mitigation of harm to civilians” and to urge “the Congolese government… to put in place a fully independent national oversight mechanism to oversee the implementation of its commitments outlined in the PSCF”.

Dialogue and DDR

Under this heading, the letter says “this should include local level dialogue to address the local causes of conflict and community grievances, as well as comprehensive Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) options for combatants, irrespective of nationality.”

During his visit to the North Kivu provincial capital Goma on 23 May Ban made it clear that the UN does not see the Brigade as the sole solution to eastern DRC’s conflicts.

“The Intervention Brigade will address all this violence” he told local media, “and will try their best to protect human lives, human rights and human dignity – but you should also know that this is only one element of a much larger process. I think a peace deal must deliver a peace dividend, health, education, jobs and opportunity.”

NGOs fear being linked with military action

One of the concerns that prompted NGOs to write the letter was the possible impact on their own work of future operations by the Brigade, said Frances Charles, advocacy manager for NGO World Vision (which sent the letter on behalf of the signatories).

“The issue of how the Brigade is related to the rest of the integrated mission and how independent humanitarian actors such as NGOs relate to MONUSCO is, I think, a very big issue.

“We need a lasting peace and that peace will have to be imposed by striking hard against negative forces”

“We have to preserve independent humanitarian access. MONUSCO needs to make clear to communities how all the different parts of the (UN) mission work together.

“One thing we are very concerned about, as World Vision, is being linked to any military action. We are independent and we want to make sure that our access to communities is maintained.”

Peacekeeping versus offensive action

Several observers have questioned whether MONUSCO’s existing role of protecting civilians, particularly in displaced peoples’ camps, will be possible in areas where the Brigade attacks armed groups, as this could result in retaliation against all UN military and civilian personnel as well as against other aid workers and civilians.

The interim head of MONUSCO’s office in Goma, Alex Queval, told journalists that all necessary precautions would be taken to ensure that peacekeepers continue all their existing work, but he did not go into details.

For its part the M23 rebel group has suggested that the Brigade will need to work in different areas to the other peacekeepers.

“It’s a very complicated situation for us,” M23 spokesman Rene Abandi told IRIN this week. “Blue helmets come with an offensive mandate while others are deployed in the same areas with a peacekeepers’ mandate. They have really to separate areas so that we can make the distinction.”

Speaking to the UN News Centre on 29 May, the commander of the Intervention Brigade, Tanzanian Brig-Gen James Aloizi Mwakibolwa, acknowledged there are fears among some observers that the Brigade will exacerbate tensions.

“Perhaps they expect collateral damage to the extent that several people are not positive about the Brigade,” he said.

“It should be understood that our first concern should be the protection of civilians as we take on the armed groups,” he added. “A UN peacekeeper is a person who must protect UN staff and UN property but, above all, he must protect the civilians.”

The brigadier stressed that while he heads the brigade, he is not the head of the UN force in the country. “We are part of MONUSCO and our instructions come from the force commander of MONUSCO,” he said.

Goma groups support Brigade

Civil society groups in Goma are generally supportive of the Intervention Brigade and its offensive mandate.

“For the first time people feel they can look forward to a better future – because the new force has a mission to put an end to the armed groups,” said Goyon Milemba, team leader of the North Kivu civil society association’s working group on security issues, after the arrival of the Brigade’s headquarters staff in Goma last month.

“If people think you can protect civilians by stopping attacks on armed groups, they are wrong. We need a lasting peace and that peace will have to be imposed by striking hard against negative forces,” the president of the North Kivu civil society association, Thomas d’Aquin Muiti, told IRIN.

He acknowledged there would be collateral damage but said the situation for the people in displaced camps is intolerable.

“This does not mean MONUSCO should stop protecting displaced people,” he said. “Rather it should reinforce protection.”

He added that the government should recognize it will have an additional responsibility for protection as the Brigade starts offensive operations.

nl/cb source http://www.irinnews.org

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DRC: Conflict for Coffee?

Posted by African Press International on May 13, 2013

GOMA,  – Entrepreneur Gilbert Makelele wants armed groups in his part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to wake up and smell the coffee.

“You should tell the population to grow coffee, as it’s the best way for them to make money,” he told a militia member during a recent visit to the town of Kalonge, where he and his fellow cooperative members have planted a nursery for coffee seedlings.The Kivu Cooperative of Coffee Planters and Traders (CPNCK), which Makelele founded five years ago, has planted six of these nurseries in the Kalonge-Pinga-Mweso triangle, a hotbed of militia activity.

“If the young men in this area knew how much they could earn with coffee, they would not be interested in joining militias,” Makelele told IRIN.

“A paradise for coffee”

Coffee, a traditional export crop, was virtually abandoned across much of North Kivu in the past 30 years. DRC’s production shrank from 110,000 metric tons in the late 1980s to about 50,000 metric tons in 2009, according to the DRC’s national coffee office.

CPNCK says it is giving away half a million arabica seedlings to help relaunch coffee’s cultivation.

Many people in the Kalonge area, including members of armed groups, appear to be interested in planting coffee. The militiaman told IRIN he would like to plant the crop on his ancestral land of more than 100 hectares, but that he would first have to raise US$1,000 to pay the land registry for title deeds.

Uncertainty about land titles and the involvement of Congolese and foreign armed groups are just some of the problems local farmers will face if they decide to take Makelele’s advice. Planting coffee is a long-term investment, prices have been volatile and the market is not as reliable as that for food crops.

Nevertheless, the crop has paid off for neighbouring Uganda and Rwanda, which have increased their production in recent years. The crop is Uganda’s single most important export, and coffee and tea together account for nearly half of Rwanda’s exports.

The recent history of coffee prices could also deter would-be planters: The New York market price for mild arabica, currently slightly above the inflation-adjusted average for the past decade, has fluctuated by more than 300 percent since 2003, and has trended downwards since the late 1970s.

But coffee’s promoters argue that increasing demand in middle-income countries, plus the possibility that climate change could lead to the spread of diseases in coffee plants, point to higher prices in future – and bright prospects for Kivu coffee.

Additionally, the temperate climate in the Kivu region’s hills is thought to be protection against coffee rust, the most devastating disease affecting arabica. Partly for this reason, World Coffee Research describes the area as “a paradise for coffee”.

This optimism has helped to persuade several NGOs – including Catholic Relief Services (CRS), Oxfam, the Eastern Congo Initiative and the Fairtrade organization Twin – to launch coffee projects in the Kivu provinces.

Twin has helped a South Kivu co-operative, Sopacdi, replant coffee and improve yields, quality and post-harvest processing, enabling its 3,500 members to become the first producers in Kivu to achieve organic and Fairtrade certification.

Income potential

Sopacdi has publicized the job opportunities it has provided to ex-combatants. A number of them work at a mechanized washing centre – paid for by Twin and employing 161 people – where the coffee berries are depulped and dried.

One of the staff at the washing centre, former rebel Habamungu Engavashapa, told IRIN he was happy with civilian life because he was able to spend nights in a house rather than in the forest.

Another ex-combatant, Abdul Mahagi, said Sopacdi had trained him as a machinist and given him a contract; he said he was beginning to see a way to organize his life.

Other workers at the washing centre, however, complained that their salaries, about $60 a month, were barely enough to live on.

The main opportunities that coffee co-operatives are likely to provide for ex-combatants in the short term would be to clear land and plant seedlings.

CPNCK has been employing 50 ex-combatants on these tasks at a rate of $1 a day, much less than they would earn in artisanal mining, but not insignificant in most of the villages, says Jean-Baptiste Musbyimana, an agricultural journalist based in Goma.

The returns could be more enticing for ex-combatants and smallholder farmers who are able to grow coffee for themselves.

For information on the profitability of coffee versus that of alternative crops, IRIN consulted Franck Muke, an agronomist who has studied coffee production in DRC and in Brazil; Xavier Phemba, CRS’s agricultural project co-ordinator in Goma; and Sandra Kavira, an agronomist working for the International Fertilizer Development Centre.

Their data suggest returns from a hectare of 2,500 coffee trees could be two to three times as high as the returns from a hectare of maize or beans, assuming an absence of mineral fertilizers and only limited use of organic fertilizers.

Jean-Baptiste Musabyimana, of the Federation of Agricultural Producer Organizations of Congo (FOPAC), which does not promote coffee, said coffee is regarded as having several advantages over other crops, including the potential for intercropping with bananas, beans or legumes, which provide organic waste and additional profits from the same acreage.

Once the trees have been planted, coffee also requires less labour than annual crops and is less likely to be stolen.

“Armed groups won’t cut off the berries and eat them,” coffee plantation owner Eric Kulage told IRIN. “And the workers don’t want the berries either, whereas when they are harvesting maize they always solicit some bags.”

Coffee’s major disadvantage is the cost of planting and the fact that the trees cannot be harvested for the first three years and do not reach their full potential for five to eight years. Muke estimated costs of planting 2,500 trees per hectare, and pruning for three non-productive years, at $850 to $950. These costs, and the risks involved, limit the acreage farmers will be willing to devote to the crop.

Helping DRC compete

A significant limitation to DRC’s coffee industry is the lack of mechanized washing stations, which cut down on waste and help maintain product consistency. Washing stations are the norm in Uganda and Rwanda, but there are hardly any in Kivu, where producers depulp the berries by hand or sell the wet berries to merchants from Uganda and Rwanda.

Aid agencies are planning to install several washing stations at sites close to large population centres and to Lake Kivu. But Muke says this could be a mistake, as the lakeside areas have higher humidity, which is thought to promote coffee rust.

There could be social advantages to promoting a perennial crop in areas further from Lake Kivu, like Kalonge Pinga and Mweso, where many young men see joining an armed group as their most viable livelihood option.

“If they have a perennial crop to look after, they will want to settle down,” suggested CPNCK’s Makelele.

But a major obstacle to promoting agriculture in areas where militias recruit is, of course, insecurity. Although armed groups are unlikely to steal coffee berries, they might try to steal bulk loads of dried coffee from washing stations.

Plantation owner Kulage commented that, in his experience, armed groups had not succeeded in stealing and marketing large coffee harvests in recent years. He suggested that security forces might be deployed to protect washing stations during the limited periods when bulk loads of dried coffee are left there.

Oxfam’s co-ordinator for North Kivu, Tariq Riebl, doubted whether any donor would accept the risk of building a washing station in a place like Kalonge. He noted that 90,000 seedlings had recently been stolen from a CPNCK nursery near Kalonge.

“If you mention that to donors, they won’t want to hear anything more,” he said.

But Makelele argues that the theft was not a problem because the co-op was going to give the seedlings away anyway.

“I am very happy about it,” he told IRIN. “It shows that people want to plant coffee.”

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M23, one year on – Now International Criminal Court has Ntaganda in the dock

Posted by African Press International on April 15, 2013

Photo: ICC-CPI
Ntaganda in the dock (file photo)

NAIROBI,  – The M23 rebellion, the latest of a string of armed insurgencies in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) North Kivu Province, has been active for one year now, during which hundreds of thousands have fled their homes and many have lost their lives.

The Mouvement du 23-Mars, or March 23 Movement, came into existence in April 2012, when hundreds of mainly ethnic Tutsi soldiers of FARDC, the national army, mutinied over poor living conditions and poor pay. Most of the mutineers had been members of the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), another armed group that in 2009 signed a deal with the government, which the dissidents felt Kinshasa had not fully implemented. M23 is named after the date the agreement was signed.

In November 2012, M23 captured Goma, the provincial capital, but withdrew and subsequently entered into peace talks with the government. Neighbouring Rwanda and Uganda were accused of backing M23 by a UN Security Council Group of Experts report, charges both countries strongly deny.

In this briefing, IRIN outlines the group’s impact on the province over the past year, its current position and avenues for peace in eastern DRC.

What is the humanitarian situation in North Kivu?

Although clashes between M23 and FARDC have subsided, “North Kivu remains highly insecure due to the proliferation of weapons, sporadic fighting between armed groups and the army, and inter-community tensions,” according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs(OCHA).

OCHA notes that since the beginning of the M23 rebellion, more than half a million people have been driven from their homes in North Kivu. The figure accounts for more than half of the 914,000 displaced people in the province. Tens of thousands more fled to refugee camps in Rwanda and Uganda.

According to Amnesty International, M23 has been responsible for human rights abuses “including violations of the duty to care for the civilian population when launching attacks, forced recruitment of children who were either trained to take part in hostilities or forced to work to build military positions, unlawful killings, and acts of sexual violence”. The organization also blamed FARDC for widespread abuses against civilians.

Where are M23’s leaders?

The movement’s leadership now looks significantly different than it did in April 2012.

In February 2013, a rift was reported in M23’s leadership, with one of the founders, Bosco Ntaganda, and M23’s political leader, Jean-Marie Runiga, on one side and M23’s military chief, Sultani Makenga, on the other. The two factions clashed in North Kivu, and Makenga sacked Runiga, who was the group’s representative at the peace talks taking place with the DRC government in the Ugandan capital, Kampala. Following more fighting in March, Ntaganda’s faction surrendered. Both he and Runiga, along with several senior commanders and close to 700 fighters, fled to Rwanda.

On 18 March, Ntaganda surrendered himself to the US Embassy in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, and asked to be transferred to the International Criminal Court for trial over alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity. He made his first appearance in court on 26 March. According to a paper by the Rift Valley Institute, Ntaganda had fallen out with fellow commanders early in the rebellion and had been effectively relegated to the sidelines.

Experts have lauded Ntaganda’s arrest as a positive step in the fight against impunity in DRC, but warn that it does not mean an end to violence in the region.

Runiga has been placed under house arrest in Rwanda; the Rwandan government has disarmed the M23 troops who surrendered and moved them to a refugee camp more than 50km from the DRC-Rwanda border.

Various reports indicate that Makenga is now consolidating his fighters, thought to number about 1,500, and M23-held territory in North Kivu, but he may also be preparing for further negotiations with President Joseph Kabila’s government. According to Congo expert Jason Stearns, “The internal M23 split may have provided the break they [DRC representatives] needed to make the deal acceptable for the rebels.”

Hundreds of thousands have fled violence in North Kivu over the past year (file photo)

Any deal is likely to involve the integration of Makenga’s fighters into FARDC, with lower cadre fighters automatically integrated and higher ranking officers considered for integration on a case-by-case basis. However, analysts say the re-integration method has not worked in the past and must be rethought.

“M23 integration in FARDC is feasible but is not suitable. The policy of repeated integration of armed groups in FARDC is [contributing] to the fragmentation and militarization of FARDC,” Marc-Andre Lagrange, DRC senior analyst for the International Crisis Group, told IRIN via email. “Since that approach has proven, with M23, to be a failure, the DRC government with MONUSCO and UNSC should look for another option.”

According to a recent article in the newsletter Africa Confidential: “Experts broadly agree that some kind of agreement between Kinshasa and M23 is in the offing and will be signed soon, but reliable sources in North Kivu diverge on what the outcome will be. Some feel that Makenga will reintegrate his troops into the FARDC, while others suggest that Makenga and [new] M23 political leader Bertrand Bisimwa can stay independent of the army while not being seen as a ‘negative force’.”

What is the fate of the peace talks?

The Kampala peace talks between M23 and the DRC government began in December 2012, under the auspices of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR). The talks have made little progress and have been put on hold due to the rebel group’s internal problems. Bisimwa has urged Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni to revive the talks.

On 24 February, a UN-brokered peace agreement aimed at ending conflict in eastern DRC was signed in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, by 11 African countries – Angola, Burundi, the Central African Republic, DRC, the Republic of Congo, Rwanda, South Africa, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. Dubbed the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the DRC, the deal’s goals include the reformation of the DRC’s army and an end to regional interference in the country. Among the decisions reached was the formation of a neutral intervention force aimed at fighting “negative forces” in eastern DRC – referring not only to M23 but other armed groups as well.

While the deal was lauded as a breakthrough by African countries, analysts are more sceptical, criticizing the agreement as being long on rhetoric and short on detail and solid action plans. A Foreign Policy Association blog post noted that since the 1990s, a number of similar regional agreements had failed to bring peace to DRC. It pointed out that the some key players were not mentioned or involved – including armed groups like Raia Mutomboki (Swahili for “angry citizens”), Mai Mai Cheka and the Hutu-dominated FDLR, whose presence in eastern DRC is perceived as a threat by Rwanda.

“The primary aggressors present in the country for the last 10 years, the militia groups that patrol the eastern provinces, were not even included in the discussion,” said the author, Daniel Donovan. “By excluding these groups, they hold no commitment to such an agreement, which begs the question: How does this move signify a guarantee for peace?”

What is next for the region?

On 28 March, the UN Security Council authorized an offensive “intervention brigade” to “address imminent threats to peace and security” as part of the UN Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO).

The risk of violence remains

“The objectives of the new force – which will be based in North Kivu Province in eastern DRC and total 3,069 peacekeepers – are to neutralize armed groups, reduce the threat they posed to State authority and civilian security, and make space for stabilization activities,” according to the UN News Centre. It also aims to support the Addis accord.

Following the announcement, the DRC government said it supported the intervention brigade and warned M23 rebels to disband. M23’s Bisimwa has rejected the UN’s decision to send the force, but said the group would neither fight nor flee the UN forces.

The International Federation of Human Rights has warned of a potential “escalation in military confrontations and increased risk of retaliatory attacks by armed groups against civilians” as a result of the force’s entry into the fray, and urged MONUSCO to “mitigate against the increased risks that communities will face”.

Experts say reforms in eastern DRC must go beyond military solutions. “The intervention brigade… should not be seen as the only solution but one element of a comprehensive solution,” said ICG’s Lagrange.

“After last year’s fall of Goma and rise of the Mai Mai [rebel] threat, there is a serious need for a new approach against the armed groups. Such an approach should include the use of military force; a targeted policy of arrest on armed groups’ leaders; a DDR [disarmament, demobilization and reintegration] offer focusing on civilian reintegration; the investigation and neutralization of the logistical networks of the armed groups; and development work in the communities that generate armed groups,” he told IRIN.

“Groups like M23 are not a cause but a symptom of what’s going wrong in the DRC,” he added. “The Congolese government must commit to implement the security sector reforms, especially the reforms concerning the FARDC. It must also abandon its policy of peace prevailing over justice.”

kr/rz http://www.irinnews.org

 

 

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