Great Lakes Tensions Spike After Rwanda Nearly Downs a Congolese Fighter Jet
Great Lakes Tensions Spike After Rwanda Nearly Downs a Congolese Fighter Jet
Op-Ed / Africa 3 minutes

Feeding on War

On Oct. 29, widespread looting broke out in the eastern Congolese town of Goma. Members of the Congolese Army, whose job it is to protect civilians, helped themselves to whatever they could find. A number of killings and rapes were reported.

News that the army is causing havoc among its own people is no surprise. In the North Kivu region a few weeks ago, I saw firsthand just how demoralized and undisciplined these troops are.

In the town of Sake, on one of the front lines between the Congolese Army and Tutsi rebel forces under the command of Laurent Nkunda, groups of government soldiers were milling about in various states of undress, weapons slung over their shoulders, showing no evident interest in the rebel installations on the hill above. This absence of military order has contributed to the maelstrom in the region.

Granted, eastern Congo has not been stable for a decade, but the last few days have shown all actors in the region at their violent worst.

There was a glimmer of hope in January, with the Goma agreement, which called for a cease fire and voluntary demobilization of combatants, and the ensuing "Amani" peace process. But this was short lived.

Even though the United States and the African Union supported the agreement and the preceding November 2007 Nairobi declaration - which provided for a normalization of relations between Congo and Rwanda, the disarming of Rwandan Hutu rebels, including some perpetrators of the 1994 genocide, and ending Rwandan support to Nkunda and his Tutsi rebels - they quickly delegated responsibility for enforcement to the UN Mission in the Congo.

None of the guarantors of these accords had the courage to press Rwanda or Congo to respect their commitments.

Even before the recent escalation, countless cease-fire violations by Nkunda's forces, the Congolese Army, pro-government Mai-Mai militias and Rwandan insurgents were undermining the process. Very little was done in response, by the UN or anyone else. In particular, nobody made clear to Joseph Kabila, the president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, that launching a new military offensive against Nkunda in August would only lead to another humiliating defeat with catastrophic humanitarian consequences.

An international response is now even more urgent; preventing a regional escalation of the crisis should be the priority. Rwanda must not be given a legitimate reason to re-enter Congo and start a new regional war. The Hutu rebels must be kept at bay, and external military support from southern African to the Congolese Army must be stopped.

There is no military solution to the Tutsi insurgency. Nkunda's only goal is to maintain the status quo, keeping Congolese Tutsi civilians hostage to his political and economic interests while claiming he is their protector. His CNDP is a rogue militia led by former Congolese Army officers and financed by businessmen who profit from war.

All the communities in North Kivu have suffered from Nkunda's atrocities over the past five years and require as much protection as the Tutsi he purports to protect. There is no need for new and lengthy negotiations. The Nairobi and Goma agreements and the UN peacekeeping mandate provide all the necessary instruments on both the national and international level.

The CNDP will have to be dismantled and disarmed together with the other militias. This will require an end to the passive support provided by Rwanda. The Congolese Army will also have to stop collaborating with the Hutu rebels and to support their forced disarmament.

It is imperative for the European Union to push Rwanda and Congo to honor their commitments. The EU should not be distracted by internal negotiations on military assistance - any force will have to work with UN peacekeepers in support of a clearly defined political process. A diplomatic role for the EU is the more feasible and effective option.

The priority for the EU and the rest of the international community should be heavy pressure on both Rwanda and Congo to implement the Nairobi declaration; on Nkunda to retreat to his bases in Masisi and Rutshuru; and on President Joseph Kabila to remove all army commanders collaborating with the Hutu rebels. The parties must then proceed with the unconditional implementation of the Goma agreement.

On Oct. 30, Nkunda, a man responsible for displacing more than 300,000 people, threatened to enter Goma to "protect the civilians" from the army. The protection of civilians will not come from more military assistance but from a sustainable political process. This time, the international community has to see it through.

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