For all the grim announcements of a “humanitarian disaster” sparked by the current re-eruption of the Congo war, there is an alarming paucity of clear reportage on who exactly is responsible for what violence. Most western media accounts are heavy on despair-inducing atrocity pornography and very light on actual facts. Within Central Africa, the Congolese media portray Rwandan aggression, while the Rwandan media accuse the Democratic Republic of Congo of sheltering Hutu militias bent on Rwanda’s destabilization. And while western accounts emphasize endemic “festering hatreds” left by the 1994 Rwanda genocide (AP, Oct. 30), DRC diplomats accuse Western powers of backing Rwanda in a destabilization ploy against Kinshasa. Some examples…
First a BBC News Oct. 31 headline tells us “DR Congo refugee camps ‘burned’“—but in the passive voice, without a clue as to who is doing the burning!
The UN refugee agency says it has credible reports camps sheltering 50,000 refugees in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo have been destroyed.
Reports suggest the camps were forcibly emptied and looted before being burned.
Aid groups say they are struggling to reach an estimated 250,000 people in the region fleeing fierce fighting between government and rebel forces.
The BBC does, however, have time to tell us how their reporter engaged in personal heroics when a riot broke out at an aid distribution center (while the accompanying online video lingers lovingly on blood gushing from a child’s facial injury):
Our correspondent managed to pluck to safety one little girl who was knocked over in the melee and reunite her with her father.
There is no such vagueness about culpability in the Central African press. The DRC’s pro-government Congo News Agency states Nov. 1:
50,000 unaccounted for as Laurent Nkunda’s Rebels Burn Refugee Camps
UNHCR humanitarian partners have reported to the agency that several camps for internally displaced people near the North Kivu town of Rutshuru have been forcibly emptied, looted and burned by Laurent Nkunda’s rebels.
The UNHCR Chief Spokesman Ron Redmond told journalists in Geneva that the agency was “extremely concerned about the fate of some 50,000 displaced people living in these camps, which include the UNHCR-administered sites of Dumez, Nyongera and Kasasa as well as several makeshift settlements”.
Laurent Nkunda and his men have been accused for years of committing war crimes in eastern Congo. Mass graves have been found in areas previously occupied by the rebels. One such site was found in September 2007 by the United Nations Mission in DR Congo (MONUC) at Rubare, northwest of Goma, a camp that Laurent Nkunda’s rebels had just abandoned.
At the time, MONUC spokesman Sylvie van den Wildenberg told a reporter in an interview that “At the moment, we do not know the exact number of victims but there are a large number of people buried in the three graves”.
A BBC article in December 2007 noted that Laurent Nkunda rebels “are blamed for rapes, looting and massacres. Mass graves were found near Rutshuru, about 60 km north of Goma, after his men stormed the town about three months ago”. It also noted that “The United Nations Mission in DR Congo (Monuc) has accused him of the forced recruitment of child soldiers and the government has issued an international warrant for his arrest”.
However, it appears that DRC troops are also responsible for their fair share of atrocities. An Oct. 31 headline in The Scotsman tells us Congolese villagers were “Massacred by their own soldiers“:
Congolese government soldiers swept through the besieged strategic town of Goma yesterday, looting shops and killing the citizens they were meant to protect.
Frightened people who crouched in their homes and improvised refugee camps had been expecting the violence to come from the rebel Tutsi guerrilla army, which shelled Goma overnight and halted its advance about ten miles to the north and east of the town.
Instead, the bloodletting came from the retreating Congolese government army, whose angry fighters, many of them drunk, looted homes and shops as panic gripped the town on the northern shore of Lake Kivu. One intoxicated soldier was seen wearing a Darth Vader mask.
Some villages have been repeatedly kicked around by DRC government troops and Nkunda’s rebels alike, it seems. Jeffrey Gettleman in the New York Times Oct. 31 reports from the “ransacked” village of Kibumba, “which had been bombed by the rebels, trashed by retreating government soldiers and then stormed by rebel fighters.”
In a piece entitled “War Crimes in the Congo by Laurent Nkunda and Paul Kagame,” the Congo News Agency on Oct. 30 provided the following background on Nkunda—painting him as Rwanda’s pawn:
Laurent Nkunda is a war criminal. The Congolese government issued an international arrest warrant against him for war crimes in 2005. Human Rights Watch has been calling for his arrest for war crimes since February of 2006. He is on a UN Sanctions List for breaches of the UN arms embargo in the DRC. On October 31, 2006 U.S. President George W. Bush signed Executive Order 13413 freezing the assets his assets contributing to the conflict in the Congo.
Laurent Nkunda belongs in a prison cell at The Hague along with his acolyte Bosco Ntaganda, who is being sought under an unrest warrant [sic] issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) and unsealed on April, 28 2008. Laurent Nkunda is also under investigation by the ICC. Many Congolese are wondering why there has not yet been an indictment of Laurent Nkunda while the court was quick to issue one against former Congolese vice-president Jean-Pierre Bemba for crimes that while equally important and indefensible, pale in comparison against those of Laurent Nkunda and his troops.
Laurent Nkunda’s boss Paul Kagame was indicted on November 17, 2006 by then French magistrate in charge of counter-terrorism affairs Jean-Louis Bruguière. He is accused in the indictment of ordering the attack on the plane carrying then Rwandan President, Juvenal Habyarimana and his counterpart Cyprien Ntaryamira of Burundi. Their deaths led to the genocide of an estimated 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus. Judge Fernando Andreou Merelles of the Spanish Central Instruction Court issued indictments against 40 senior officers of the Rwanda Defense Forces formerly of the Rwanda Patriotic Army for committing mass killings after the 1994 Rwanda Genocide. He said he also has evidence against Paul Kagame who only escaped indictment because he is a sitting president.
…While Rwanda’s New Times Oct. 31 (via AllAfrica), paints the Hutu militias as Kinshasa’s pawn—and highlights charges of Congolese aggression against Rwandan territory:
FDLR Existence in DRC, a Threat to Rwanda – UN
The United Nations has expressed worries over the continued existence of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), rebels linked to the 1994 Tutsi Genocide, in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
This was revealed by the Haile Menkerios, United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, after his meeting with President Paul Kagame, at Urugwiro Village.
Menkerios, said that the existence of the FDLR in DR Congo, poses a big threat to the two neighbouring countries’ relations.
He was sent to Rwanda by the UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon, to meet with President Kagame and look for possible alternatives to the conflict in the Congo.
Menkerios’s visit to Rwanda, comes a day after the UN Secretary General condemned recent artillery shelling of the Rwandan side by President Joseph Kabila forces as they fled Goma.
In a little-noted clip on the BBC World Service morning broadcast of Nov. 1 that appears nowhere online (World War 4 Report had to call the BBC’s London offices to get the exact quote and citation), Zenan Mukongo, chargé d’affaires at DRC’s UN Mission in New York, not only accused Rwanda of being behind Nkunda’s new offensive—but made a barely veiled accusation of a hidden Washington hand behind Rwanda’s strategy:
Rwanda did not want peace in Congo because they think peace in Congo will not allow them to have the mineral resources they are having now. They [now] have coltan, diamonds, because they don’t have those mineral resources in their country… The rebel leader Nkunda is getting support from Rwanda… Nkunda by himself can not do what he is doing now. He is getting support from Rwanda, and Rwanda is getting support from some other countries in terms of arms supplies and material.
If Mukongo was too politic to state it explicitly, we can assume the US and UK are top on his list of “other countries” that are backing the Rwandan aggression.
Meanwhile, BBC News and the AP report Nov. 1 that French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and his British counterpart David Miliband are in Congo to try to broker a last-minute ceasefire—and that an EU intervention force is being prepared, the UN “peacekeepers” already on the ground being deemed ineffectual.
See our last post on Congo.