Fresh fears in Congo

]A substantial build-up of troops along the border of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) with Rwanda has sparked fears of renewed conflict in central Africa. By the end of June about 10,000 troops had been flown to eastern DRC after rebels seized the town of Bukavu. The rebels claimed the takeover was motivated by the need to protect Congolese Tutsis, the Banyamulenge, from ethnic cleansing. However, DRC President Joseph Kabila blamed neighbouring Rwanda, a former backer of the rebels, for the incident. Rwanda has twice invaded the DRC in pursuit of Hutu extremists who were responsible for the 1994 genocide in that country. The Tutsi-dominated government in Rwanda views the latest troop build-up as hostile.

In the eyes of many Congolese the Banyamulenge, who number only 300,000 out of a population of 46 million, are Rwandans. In 1998 the Banyamulenge sided with Rwanda when it invaded DRC in an attempt to topple President Joseph Kabila’s predecessor and father, Laurent Kabila (see Wars for Africa’s Wealth, ([NI 367]).

As a result, since 1998 anti-Banyamulenge feelings have been running high in the DRC. These feelings are even reflected amongst exiles in Burundi, where about 30,000 Congolese have fled recently. Aid workers say the refugees – who cross the border at a rate of 1,000 a day – have divided themselves into two camps: one housing Banyamulenge, the other a variety of Congolese ethnic groups.

Towards the end of 2002 South Africa brokered an end to the five-year civil war that began in 1998, in which up to three million people died. Kabila now heads a transitional government that includes former rebel groups and opposition representatives.

The east of the country remains volatile, however, and the integration of government and rebel forces into a well-managed national army has been slow. The 10,000 UN peacekeepers deployed in eastern DRC lack the capacity to police the region effectively.

Concerns about the stability of the Congolese peace accord deepened after a failed coup attempt in the capital, Kinshasa, on 11 June.

These events have alarmed the Southern African Development Community (SADC). South African minister Sydney Mufamadi, who brokered the talks to end the war, has warned that the SADC would not tolerate military coups. On 18 June South Africa and the DRC entered into a military co-operation agreement. South Africa will train the new Congolese army once all government and rebel forces have been integrated. The issue of military intervention by the SADC to prevent further conflict is under active discussion.

New Internationalist issue 371 magazine cover This article is from the September 2004 issue of New Internationalist.
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