The Boiling Regional Crisis in Eastern Congo
The Boiling Regional Crisis in Eastern Congo
Report 133 / Africa

Congo: Bringing Peace to North Kivu

North Kivu is again a crucible of conflict in Congo. Since fighting resumed between the insurgents of Laurent Nkunda and the national army in December 2006, over 370,000 civilians have been displaced in the province.

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Executive Summary

North Kivu is again a crucible of conflict in Congo. Since fighting resumed between the insurgents of Laurent Nkunda and the national army in December 2006, over 370,000 civilians have been displaced in the province. Due to the failure of the latest attempt to integrate Nkunda’s troops into the army, the crisis has become much worse since May 2007. UN attempts to impose a ceasefire and appoint a special envoy to mediate have failed. President Joseph Kabila’s 15 October decision to suspend offensive operations and his subsequent call on all Congolese armed groups in the region to present themselves for disarmament or army integration is welcome but fighting continues, and there is no real dialogue with Nkunda. A comprehensive initiative needs to be launched urgently to de-escalate the crisis and address the root causes of the conflict.

This new crisis results from failures of the Congo peace process on army integration, economic governance and transitional justice. During the second half of the political transition – which formally ended with the election of President Kabila and a new legislature in 2006 – a policy of containment, appeasement, and international emphasis on the holding of elections cooled tensions but left their causes unaffected. The province remained in effect split into two pieces, with Masisi and Rutshuru territories caught in a cold war between dissidents from the former Rwandan-backed rebel group, the Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD), and the national army (FARDC). Little progress was made on disarmament and reintegration of Mai Mai militias or repatriation of the Rwandan Hutu (FDLR) rebels. The illegal exploitation of natural resources continued unabated as all communities armed, animated by deep mutual resentments over land security, mass human rights abuses during the war and control of natural resources.

The 2006 national and provincial elections liquidated politically the RCD. Strengthened by his election, Kabila held discreet talks with Nkunda, facilitated by Rwanda, and concluded an agreement for the progressive integration of Nkunda’s troops into the regular armed forces, a process locally known as mixage, with the understanding that they would not have to leave the province until the general security situation improved significantly. But neither Nkunda nor Kabila was able to contain their hardliners opposed to the settlement.

Afraid to become the victims of revenge killings and lose everything they had illegally acquired during the war, Goma-based Tutsi leaders accused Nkunda of betrayal and threatened to stop supporting him. Kabila’s hardliners attacked him over the perceived preferential treatment given to the Tutsi in the army integration process and used the public outcry over the massive human rights violations and displacement of civilians caused by the operations against the FDLR to undermine the agreement’s legitimacy. Mixage collapsed in May 2007, leading to new escalation.

So far, the crisis has not jumped the border to draw in Rwanda. Both Kinshasa and Kigali have shown restraint and chosen to continue with regular consultations. However, on the ground, there is combat; the humanitarian situation is appalling; neither side has a good prospect of military success; and escalation continues to carry the risk of destabilisation of the wider region.

To compensate for the national army’s weakness, Kabila has been trying to co-opt the UN mission (MONUC) into his operations, a move the UN should continue to resist lest it be caught in the crossfire between Nkunda and the FDLR. The international community should encourage Kabila to suspend his military offensive and launch a comprehensive peace initiative for North Kivu, aimed first at de-escalating the conflict and improving the general security environment in the province, then addressing the core issues related to restoration of state authority such as regulation of the exploitation of natural resources, return of refugees and a transitional justice process facilitating community reconciliation. A prolonged deadlock would inevitably result in further displacement of civilians and increased risk of ethnic cleansing and revenge killing on both sides.

Over the past three years, ending the North Kivu conflict has been repeatedly postponed in favour of efforts to consolidate the transition and secure Kabila’s election. But North Kivu has been the epicentre of Congo’s violence since the conflict began more than fifteen years ago. Now is the time to address this major gap in the Congolese transition and end a crisis which is producing immense suffering and continues to carry wider risks for Congo and its neighbours.

Nairobi/Brussels, 31 October 2007

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