Hutu militias key to Congo conflict
by Todd Pitman, http://news.yahoo.com/
www.antiwar.com/, November 2,
The international community is scrambling to organize a summit
to prevent a resumption of the fighting in Congo that has displaced
a quarter-million people in recent weeks. But the conflict will
be tough to end without resolving an issue at its heart - the
presence of Hutu militias who participated in Rwanda's genocide.
The Hutu fighters fled to Congo in 1994
after helping massacre more than a half-million Tutsis. They remain
there untouched, heavily armed, and in control of lucrative mines
in remote hills and forests.
Congo's ethnic Tutsi rebel leader, Laurent
Nkunda, has used the threat they pose to justify carving out his
own fiefdom in the mineral-rich east.
That fiefdom grew dramatically in recent
days as his fighters advanced dozens of kilometers (miles) south
to the gates of the provincial capital, Goma, forcing a beleaguered
army and humiliated U.N. peacekeepers to retreat.
Nkunda called a unilateral cease-fire
and suddenly halted his advance. It's unclear why, but there was
certainly intense diplomatic pressure to do so. And seizing a
city that's home to hundreds of thousands of people and serves
as the regional headquarters of the U.N. and aid groups could
have been difficult.
Either way, an immediate resumption of
fighting is unlikely. Congo's notoriously undisciplined army easily
crumbled against Nkunda's advance, showing it will not stand and
fight. European officials have played down the possibility of
sending another foreign force. The 17,000-strong U.N. force in
Congo is already the largest in the world.
The new status quo will allow Nkunda to
profit from any mineral riches and taxes in his freshly seized
territories - giving him another bargaining chip at any negotiating
The U.N., the European Union and the African
Union are pushing for a summit soon with leaders from Congo and
Rwanda. Details are vague and no date has been set.
Past peace talks have yielded agreements,
but sparse results.
In a deal late last year meant to help
end the fighting, Rwanda and Congo agreed to work together to
disarm and repatriate thousands of the Hutu fighters from the
so-called Democratic Front for the Liberation of Rwanda, or FDLR.
Shortly afterward, Nkunda and Congo's government agreed on a January
But Congolese action against the Hutu
fighters never materialized, and sporadic fighting involving all
sides soon resumed. In parts of North Kivu, Hutu militias man
roadblocks so openly that aid workers have highlighted the zones
they control on their own regional maps.
Nkunda accuses Congo's army of supplying
the Hutu extremists with arms, while Congo accuses Nkunda of getting
support from Rwanda's Tutsi-led government.
Nkunda claims he must fight to protect
Tutsis. But many residents of eastern Congo view Nkunda with deep
distrust and say he is a Rwandan puppet. They charge that he has
exaggerated threats to the minority Tutsi community and is more
interested in power and exploiting lucrative mineral riches than
The Rwandan Hutus fled to Congo in 1994
after the former Rwandan government organized the slaughter of
more than half a million mostly Tutsi civilians. Some lived in
overflowing refugee camps around Goma, and by 1996 their leaders
launched an insurgency and began carrying out cross-border attacks
into Rwanda, killing more Tutsis.
Fed up, Rwanda attacked the camps and
drove on to Congo's capital, Kinshasa, installing late Congolese
rebel leader Laurent Kabila as president in 1997.
Eager to prove his independence, Kabila
in 1998 expelled the Rwandans Tutsis who brought him to power
- one was his army chief of staff. Three days later, Rwanda organized
another Congolese rebellion, and along with Uganda, seized eastern
Congo in a war that drew in half a dozen African nations and lasted
Since then, Congo formed a unity government
that gave top posts to rebels. Kabila's son Joseph won historic
elections in 2006. Former Rwandan-allied Tutsi rebels like Nkunda
were integrated into the army, but expressed frustration over
the government's hesitancy to go after the Hutu militias who had
served as their de facto allies during the war. The former general
quit the army in 2004 and launched a rebellion.
Nkunda's fighters have gone after the
Hutu militias on their own but neither he nor anyone else has
been able to eradicate them: not Rwanda's army when it occupied
the east, not U.N. peacekeepers, and certainly not Congo's army.
Whenever the next round of negotiations
begins, another peace deal will be on the table. But until the
Rwandan Hutu militias are eradicated, Nkunda's rebels will almost
certainly not disarm - setting the stage for more conflict.
Their fighting with the government has
left about 250,000 people have been displaced since August, according
to the U.N. A decade of insecurity had already left nearly 800,000
others homeless in North Kivu - a startling high number for a
provincial population of 6 million.
Without disarmament of the Hutu militias,
Congo appears likely to remain where it has been for more than
a decade: the epicenter of a humanitarian mess with no clear solution
Associated Press West Africa Bureau Chief
Todd Pitman has covered Congo and its neighbors for more than