Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Thursday, December 02, 2004

DRC heats up
We've seen this movie before, and can only hope that it ends very differently. After Rwandan President Paul Kagame threatened to launch fresh attacks on the Hutu's in eastern DRC, there have been splatterings of reports of Rwandan troop movements inside the DRC's borders. In response, Congolese President Joseph Kabila announced on Monday he would send some 10,000 more troops to the area.

Kagama claims that the Hutu rebels are "poised to attack" Rwanda. Some of the rebels - made up of Interahamwe militiamen, former Rwandan soldiers and Rwandan refugees - are accused of having carried out the 1994 Rwandan genocide in which 937,000 Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus died.

These reports came a day after Kagame announced his troops would attack Rwandan Hutu militia in eastern DRC because "the UN and the Kinshasa government had failed to disarm them." Kagame last week stated: "If the international community cannot do it, who else is there to do it except us? We have no other choice but to pick off these targets. There are Interhamwe bases and ex-FAR (soldiers from the defunct Rwandan army) who we have clearly located, and when the time is right, we will deal with them."

There is a full UN Mission in the DRC, including South African soldiers, and the UN has correctly asked Kagame to provide the geographical locations of these soldiers, so that the UN soldiers can try to deal with them peacefully. This has fallen on deaf ears amongst the Rwandan leadership, which is instrumental to what others see as the 'real' reason for Rwandan incursions into the DRC - mineral wealth. Both the DRC and the United Nations have accused Kagame of profiting from its presence in DRC by extracting valuable minerals there. The DRC is one of the richest countries in the world in mineral wealth and is "reputed to contain every mineral listed on the periodic table." Easy crutch for the DRC? Perhaps, but I would not discount it out of hand.

In the meantime, Uganda has moved troops to its border with the DRC to prevent incursions by what it calls "negative elements".

The news that is the worst to hear though, comes from the stark choices presented to civilians, in what can only be seen as deja vu. Thousands of civilians have begun fleeing some eastern areas of the country after being given the choice to leave or stay, but with the threat that those who stay will be considered FDLR [Hutu Rwandan rebel group] and will be killed.

The UN states that "Population movements, difficult to monitor, have been noted in the north part of North Kivu Province," Bernard LeFlaive, a humanitarian affairs officer for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said on Monday. Fighting began on Thursday," he said. "The Rwandan Defence Forces and their allies from [the Congolese] 8th Military Region attacked Rwanda rebels of the FDLR [Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda] and told civilians they had a choice to leave or stay, but those who stay are considered FDLR and are killed."

The genocidal war between the Hutu and the Tutsi forces in the mid-Nineties were a permanent blight on the history of humankind, and the subsequent wars in 1996 and from 1998-2003 were simply salt on the wounds. Everything in the world's power needs to be done to unravel this slipknot of war from moving any further. Thabo Mbeki has played a key role in the past four years in peace talks in the DRC, and he must lead the AU in sharing peace-keeping efforts between the Ivory Coast and the Rwandan-DRC conflict. The time is now.