DRC government loses ground in Kivu war

Democratic Republic of Congo Armed Forces (FARDC) troops clashed again Dec. 13 with forces loyal to renegade general Laurent Nkunda in the Gungu heights of North Kivu province. Earlier in the week, Nkunda’s fighters forced back government troops and reclaimed positions they had held three months ago. The FARDC pulled back to the town of Sake, about 30 kilometers northwest of the UN-defended provincial capital of Goma—leading many local residents to flee the area, fearing reprisals by the rebels.

Nkunda’s National Congress for the Defense of the People is demanding the “neutralization” of the Mai Mai militia, which it says is being backed by the DRC government against his forces. It also demands the return of Congolese Tutsi refugees sheltered in neighboring countries, including Rwanda, and the dropping of what it claims are frivolous war crimes charges against Nkunda dating back to 2004. (AFP, Dec. 13)

Nkunda’s forces continue to conscript children into their ranks, charges the UN Mission in Congo (MONUC). “Forced recruitment [of children] took place outside schools, especially in the village of Burungu, when students returned to their homes, causing many to flee into the bush,” MONUC spokesman Kemal Saiki told reporters in Kinshasa. (IRIN, Dec. 13)

Nkunda was a senior officer in the Rwandan-backed Rally for Congolese Democracy-Goma (RCD-Goma), one of the main rebel groups fighting in DRC from 1998 to 2003. In 2004 he was named general in a new national Congolese army created from troops of the dissident forces at the end of the war. But he shortly withdrew with hundreds of his troops to the forests of Masisi in North Kivu, and announced a new rebellion. An international warrant was issued for his arrest in September 2005.

“An arrest warrant was issued against Nkunda for war crimes, crimes against humanity and insurrection months ago but the police and army have done nothing about arresting him,” protested Alison Des Forges, senior advisor to the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch early last year. “So long as Nkunda is at large, the civilian population remains at grave risk.”

HRW says Nkunda has remained at large even though provincial government authorities, the Congolese army and UN peacekeeping forces knew of his whereabouts. (HRW, Feb. 1, 2006)

See our last post on the struggle for Congo.