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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: http://humanite.fr/journal/2006-08-...

by Emmanuelle Debeillex, special correspondent, Democratic Republic of the Congo

The Army is the Key to Real Peace in the Congo

Translated Friday 25 August 2006, by Patrick Bolland

Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Decisive for advancing the democratic process, the creation of a new unified military force replacing the old allegiances is becoming extremely difficult.

It was just a few weeks ago. In less than a week, Kateguru, a small village in the north of Kivu province, in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), lost all its inhabitants. With his voice charged with both anger and impotence, Pierre describes the climate of permanent insecurity which made him flee: “The attacks by the armed rebels continued endlessly. Every day, or almost, they came to steal the crops and break into our houses. One evening, they beat up all the old people, another they killed one of my neighbours, who was quietly drawing water from the well, with their machetes ... and they raped 10 women returning from the fields. It was too much.” Men, women and children, about a hundred families in all, headed off down the road in the direction of Rutshuru, some 25 km away. UNICEF hurriedly provided some plastic sheets to provide shelter for the displaced, whose numbers have been rising each day.

If the 2002 Sun City peace agreement, signed by the leading contenders in the war-torn DRC officially ended years of deadly conflict between the official government forces and the rebels, supported particularly by neighbouring Rwanda and Uganda, violence is still the daily reality in the east of the country. Ex-rebels are still haunting the Kivu forests, terrorizing the villagers ... and, as Pierre tells us: “It’s even worse than that – some of the soldiers of the new national army which is supposed to be protecting us are also stealing our goods and raping our women. Yes, them as well.”

Creating a new army

The RDC may well have held on 30 July the first truly free elections in 40 years, “the absence of a really unified army and the continuing atrocities being committed by some of it members show clearly that peace is still a long way off”, as Emmanuel Kahasha, president of the civil society of south Kivu bitterly points out. Alongside the UN Mission in the Congo (MONUC), the transitional government formed in 2003 has certainly started a massive operation disarming and demobilising ex-combatants and creating a new integrated army, but the process is far from complete and still remains extremely fragile.

But the record isn’t totally negative: since 2004, when the process began, 128,848 individuals (among them, 16,809 children) have been demobilized. There are 86,650 adults who have returned to their homes, while 42,198 chose to rejoin the army, 15,007 currently in transit in the “integration centres” where the new inter-ethnic brigades of the national army, the DRC Armed Forces (FARDC) are being trained. In all 13 of the 18 brigades foreseen by the National Plan are already in place. But the process is facing huge obstacles in getting to the core of the problems.

On the one hand, in the east of the county - Kivu, Katanga, Ituri – some of the ex-combatants are still refusing to hand over their weapons. In Kivu, this is particularly the case with the Congolese “self-defence militia”, the Maï-Maï, who are still using the undercover of the forest, and particularly the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDLR), a rebel group trained partly by the genocidal Hutu militias, who refuse to return to Rwanda unless their safety is guaranteed. Isolated, these armed groups live from pillaging villages, maintaining a climate of permanent insecurity ... and delaying the creation of a true unified army.

On the other hand, at the national level, the new FARDC “integrated” brigades are seriously lacking the means to operate adequately and are themselves the victims, as is the population as a whole, of generalised corruption which often ends up with “wages, which are already ridiculously low - $20 a month – getting lost en route”, as Emmanuel Kahasha points out angrily. With the result that in Goma, the capital of northern Kivu, the soldiers hang out in the streets, with nothing to do, often living with their families on the ground at the edge of the airport runway. And everywhere in the country, the soldiers’ only means survival is, armed with their guns, stealing from the population.

Violence of a daily basis

The difficulty in creating a real army means that more than three years after the official end of the conflicts, the DRC is still the theatre of violence on a daily basis. Enough to enrage the civil population, which is unable to understand that the FARDC, “supported” by the 17,000 UN troops of the MONUC, is unable to – “doesn’t want to”, some say, - bring an end to the violence. At Bukavu, capital of the southern Kivu, Mathilde Muhindo, who runs a reception centre for women victims of sexual violence, cries out, principally addressing herself to the military: “Stop bringing us sacks of food and clean sheets. Instead of this, arrest the criminals! So that women can go their way freely. This is our right! It is the right of everyone!”

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