DRC fighting appears to be abating

The recent escalation in fighting between warring factions in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) appears to be abating as a result of the deployment of United Nations peacekeepers and strong political messages from the international community, a senior UN official said on Wednesday.

“The situation now seems to be improving,” undersecretary general for peacekeeping Jean-Marie Guehenno said, cautioning that it also remains “very fragile”.

The 11 000-strong UN peacekeeping force said on Tuesday it was setting up a 10km no-go cordon between renegade soldiers and loyalist government troops north of Kanyabayonga, the eastern DRC town where fighting has centred since December 12.

The DRC has accused Rwanda of sending troops into its territory and has sent government forces to the border areas. Rwanda says many Hutu rebels, who were involved in the 1994 genocide that left more than 500 000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus dead, have taken refuge across the border in the eastern DRC.

“We don’t have any evidence at the moment of the presence of Rwandan troops in Congo,” Guehenno said. But UN peacekeepers believe there is “circumstantial evidence that at some point there was some presence of Rwandans in Congo”.

Rwanda has deployed “significant forces on the Rwandan side of the border”, he said.

After briefing the UN Security Council on the latest situation, Guehenno told reporters that “there have been human rights abuses in all likelihood” by both government troops and fighters from the former Rwanda-backed Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD), a rebel group known as RCD-Goma.

Although the RCD’s troops are now officially integrated into the national army, they have clashed several times this year with their former opponents in the eastern DRC.

Guehenno said different components of the Congolese armed forces are returning to their previous divisions.

“So long as there won’t be a unified army, you will have a fragile situation.” he said.

But the UN peacekeeping chief said the UN’s deployment of more troops—along with the opposition to fighting voiced by the DRC’s transitional government, Rwanda and many other countries—has “somewhat defused tension”.

“I think these actions on the ground combined with strong political messages from the international community did result in the tensions abating,” Guehenno said.

The UN mission in the DRC has estimated that 35 000 Congolese fled their homes in the Kanyabayonga area. Throughout the country, at least 100 000 people have been displaced, say UN officials.—Sapa-AP

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