DRC forces take back Bukavu

Government forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) took back the eastern provincial capital of Bukavu without a fight on Wednesday, to the jubilation of residents, a week after the regular army was chased out by renegade troops.

“A column arrived this morning. There was no fighting,” said Alpha Sow, the head of the Bukavu office of the United Nations mission in the DRC (Monuc).

Residents of Bukavu, which lies near the border with Rwanda, danced in the streets, banging drums and cooking pots in welcome as a first column of army soldiers marched into the town.

By late morning, the army had deployed throughout Bukavu, said Monuc spokesperson Sebastien Lapierre.

“Government forces are deployed throughout the town. There are no more dissident soldiers,” he said.

Bukavu, the capital of Sud-Kivu province, was captured by dissident soldiers led by former rebel commanders on June 2.

The government in Kinshasa accused Rwanda of backing the dissidents, with President Joseph Kabila saying on national television on the day of the seizure: “It is clearly an attack on our country by Rwandan troops.”

Kigali denied it had any hand in the unrest.

Rwanda had sent troops into the DRC in 1996 to support rebels who ousted dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, and again in 1998 to back the rebel Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD), of which both officers who led the dissident troops in Bukavu were members.

The war that began in 1998 ended last year, at the cost of about 2,5-million lives, but while peace returned to most of the sprawling country—equal in size to western Europe minus Scandinavia—the east and northeast remained mired in conflict, particularly in the two Kivu provinces, near Rwanda, and in the Ituri region, which borders Uganda.

About 90 people have been killed in and around Bukavu since late May, and though the leaders of the dissident troops who seized the town said they had invaded to protect Banyamulenges—DRC ethnic Tutsis with close links to Rwanda—who were allegedly being massacred there, one of the former rebel officers subsequently said there had been no ethnic slaughter and pulled out of the town.

The reason for the seizure by the dissident soldiers, who under the peace pact that ended the DRC’s five-year war were to be integrated into the national army, remains unclear, but many believe they do not want to submit to the authority of Kinshasa after their rebel group held sway over the eastern DRC during the war.

The eastern DRC’s fertile and mineral-rich soil made it a lucrative prize during the war and the region’s wealth may have contributed to the former rebels’ recent reluntance to cede control of the region to the new national government.

The UN, which has 10 800 troops in the DRC, faced nationwide protests after the fall of Bukavu, which took place despite the presence of several hundred of its peacekeepers in the town.

On Wednesday, Monuc soldiers were deployed throughout Bukavu to protect the Banyamulenge and UN personnel and facilities, an AFP journalist said.

Bukavu’s capture last week spread fears that the DRC’s peace process was unravelling.

Numerous international bodies condemned the takeover and stressed the need to protect the DRC’s “territorial integrity”.

Monuc’s Sow said one of the leaders of the rebel soldiers, Colonel Jules Mutebusi, had left Bukavu on Tuesday night.
The other renegade officer, General Laurent Nkunda, has already pulled troops under his command out of the town.

Monuc announced on Tuesday it would arrest any of Mutebusi’s men found on the streets of Bukavu, and that it had unearthed a large arms cache in a house.

But the men, who were meant to be billeted in designated sites in line with an accord reached with Monuc, were still visible on Tuesday night.

On Tuesday afternoon, the sound of light and heavy weapons fire could be heard in a southwestern district of the town. Unconfirmed reports said advancing government forces were fighting the dissident troops.

Also Tuesday evening, Louis Michel—foreign minister of the DRC’s former colonial power, Belgium, who flew to the region at the weekend on a mission to prevent the peace process from disintegrating—said in Kinshasa he hoped “everything would be sorted out in Bukavu in the next few hours”.

“It’s not up to me to say what I have accomplished, but I have the feeling I have succeeded,” he said after a lightning bout of shuttle diplomacy that also took him to Uganda and Rwanda.

Michel explained he had organised two meetings, one between states in the region to relaunch economic cooperation, the other between the international sponsors of the peace process.—Sapa-AFP

Francesco Fontemaggi

Francesco Fontemaggi

Francesco Fontemaggi is a diplomatic correspondent for Agence France Presse in Washington, D.C. His work has also appeared in MSN, Business Insider, Channel 7, Seven News, Yahoo, Le Figaro, and France 24. Read more from Francesco Fontemaggi

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