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Monday, April 24, 2006

Military integration and military crisis: civilians pay the price

The Bukavu crisis

In February 2004, RCD-Goma (ANC(7)) soldiers in Bukavu, the capital of South-Kivu province, mutinied against the government-appointed FARDC Regional Military Commander, General Prosper Nabyolwa, after the General instituted a series of searches for hidden arms in the city which uncovered a number of arms caches in the homes of senior RCD-Goma military and administrative personnel, including that of the then Governor of South-Kivu, Xavier Chiribanya. The mutiny was led by the General’s deputy commander, Colonel Jules Mutebutsi. Renegade RCD-Goma (ANC) troops attacked General’s Nabyolwa’s residence, killing two of his guards and forcing the General to flee. None of the renegades was disciplined. Instead, General Nabyolwa was removed from his post and replaced by another Regional Commander, General Mbuza Mabe.

In late May another, more serious, confrontation occurred in Bukavu when Colonel Mutebutsi and RCD-Goma (ANC) combatants loyal to him took up arms against General Mbuza Mabe. Mutebutsi’s force was quickly reinforced by a column of other renegade members of the RCD-Goma (ANC) from North-Kivu, led by General Laurent Nkunda, an officer who had been suspended by the transitional government for his refusal to take up a senior FARDC command(8). Nkunda claimed that his action in support of Mutebutis was to prevent a "genocide" against the minority Congolese Tutsi (known as Banyamulenge) population of South-Kivu. Mutebutsi and Nkunda’s forces embarked on a campaign of looting, rape and killing in the city(9). They were supported by the Rwandan government, according to the UN Group of Experts investigating breaches of the DRC arms embargo(10). The renegades also appeared to enjoy at least tacit support from the RCD-Goma authorities of North-Kivu, including the province’s FARDC regional commander, General Obed Rwibasira, and the RCD-Goma Governor of North-Kivu, Eugène Serufuli, both of whom took no action to prevent the march south to Bukavu of Laurent Nkunda and his military force. Some reports allege that Serufuli’s support went further, and included the provision of trucks and other equipment.(11)

Nkunda’s forces withdrew from Bukavu on 10 June 2004, moving back to North-Kivu, where the bulk of them rejoined their units without sanction. Mutebutsi’s withdrawal took him south of Bukavu and into Rwanda. Both sets of forces committed human rights abuses during their withdrawal. Transitional Government and FARDC military authority, this time without any RCD-Goma military component, was established throughout South-Kivu while that of the RCD-Goma became restricted solely to North-Kivu.

A later MONUC investigation found no evidence to support the allegations of massacres of Banyamulenge, although it noted that Mbuza Mabe’s FARDC troops had committed a number of abuses. The investigation team estimated military and civilian casualties in Bukavu at more than 100, the majority being victims of troops belonging to Mutebutsi and Nkunda(12). However, no effective action has been taken by the Congolese or Rwandan authorities to bring the alleged perpetrators, including the two renegade commanders, to justice or to hold them accountable in any way. Colonel Mutebutsi and the remnants of his forces remain in Rwanda, where they were granted refugee status by the government on 18 August 2005(13). A few days later, the DRC government announced that it would request Jules Mutebutsi’s extradition from Rwanda(14). The whereabouts of Laurent Nkunda himself are officially unknown, although according to local sources he is still present in North-Kivu, where he is able to move about and even to travel to Rwanda without interference by the authorities.. On 25 August 2005, the Congolese press published extracts of a letter apparently from Laurent Nkunda in which he accused what he called the "Kabila clan" of sowing ethnic division in the Kivus, muzzling political opposition, and responsibility for multiple human rights abuses. The letter accuses the clan of organising a "plan for ethnic cleansing in North-Kivu under the cover of military integration"(15) and goes on to urge "concrete acts of resistance" and the use of "all necessary means to force this government to step down"(16). The government responded by promising "the removal of and legal action against Mr Nkunda"(17)

The renegades’ claim of genocide against the Congolese Tutsi population worsened ethnic relations immensely and intensified the fears of the Banyarwanda populations in North- and South-Kivu. This was compounded by a number of human rights abuses committed by pro-government forces against Banyarwanda civilians during the Bukavu fighting and as they pursued the Nkunda/Mutebutsi forces south and north of the city. The Bukavu fighting reportedly led to the mass displacement of Tutsi, with thousands of them fleeing to Rwanda and Burundi. Although some have since returned to DRC, the majority remain beyond the border as refugees.

In August 2004, up to 160 Congolese Tutsi from South-Kivu were massacred in a refugee transit camp of Gatumba in Burundi in circumstances that remain unclear. A Burundian armed group, the Forces Nationales de Liberation (FNL), claimed responsibility for the killings, although the motive is unclear. The killings sparked a further political crisis in the DRC when the RCD-Goma, accusing DRC army units of having had a hand in the killings, withdrew temporarily from the transitional process in protest.

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