/ 14 October 2008

No peace in sight in DRC’s volatile east

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) powder-keg east is being bled dry as Kinshasa and Rwanda refuse to bury the hatchet and marauding militias plunder its bountiful mineral wealth, analysts say.

The traditional suspicion and hostility between the two neighbours — who accuse each other of propping up anti-government rebel outfits — is fuelling a long-dragging conflict, despite truce accords and talks between the two sides.

”The two capitals are not serious about a rapprochement,” said Arthur Kepel, a researcher with the International Crisis Group (ICG).

African Union chief Jean Ping visited Kinshasa over the weekend and pledged more continental intervention to end fighting in the restive Great Lakes region — one of Africa’s most persistent and bloody flashpoints.

”The African Union intends to become more involved in finding a solution to the crisis that is taking place now” in Nord-Kivu, where fighting resumed on August 28 shattering a January truce accord.

More than 100 000 people have been displaced since, according to estimates.

Ping, who met with Congolese President Joseph Kabila, top lawmakers, the head of the United Nations peacekeeping mission and Western diplomats, staged the visit after Kabila called for a new offensive against rebel leader Laurent Nkunda.

Nkunda launched hostilities in 2004, claiming that he was trying to prevent the ”genocide” of the Banyamulenge, or ethnic Tutsis resident in eastern DRC, and has denied being propped by Kigali.

Kinshasa accuses Rwanda of sending troops to fight alongside renegade former general Nkunda’s National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), violating a ceasefire reached under the Goma peace accord in January.

Kigali, meanwhile, accuses Kinshasa of turning a blind eye to the Hutu Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) rebel group, active in Kivu. Some within its ranks have been implicated in Rwanda’s 1994 genocide.

”We know there are links between Nkunda and Rwanda but these links are more mafia-like than anything else,” a European source said.

”He doesn’t have the backing of the regular soldiers but maybe there are those who cross the border.”

An expert on the region, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: ”Kinshasa has no desire at all to disarm the FDLR by force.”

He underlined that Kinshasa was fully aware that minerals were being systematically pillaged and transported through neighbouring countries, often with the connivance of bigwigs in the security services.

Nord- and Sud-Kivu have abundant reserves of gold, copper, cobalt, uranium, zinc and tin among other minerals and metals.

”The armed groups have carved out sanctuaries,” the regional expert said. ”They make the laws, they control hundreds of livelihoods” linked to minerals that spell big bucks for their chiefs.

The lawlessness and Kinshasa’s inability to wrest control over the area has left it an open playing field for militias who are also wreaking havoc on locals while engaged in brazen plunder.

ICG’s Kepel said that in against backdrop of the rising anarchy, the UN mission in DRC, or Monuc, ”today stands thoroughly discredited”, and stressed that ”the international community, especially the European Union, has to shed its reserve”.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, recently said it was high time to sound alarm bells, warning that he feared ”fresh sweeping massacres”.

”The situation has become untenable and bloody,” he said. ”The conflict is being fuelled on both sides of the border by Rwanda and DRC.” — Sapa-AFP