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Kimia before the storm?

On August 7-8, MONUC’s Bukavu office held a two-day meeting with traditional leaders in South Kivu Province “with a view to reflecting on collaboration strategies in the context of ongoing Kimia II military operations.”

Kimia II is a MONUC-supported collaborative military offensive between DRC and Rwanda as a follow-up to Operation Umoja Wetu (“Our Unity”). It was conducted in January of this year by an alliance of DRC and Rwandan troops in North Kivu to disarm the FDLR, a 6000-strong Rwandan military faction that has been a major source of instability in the Kivu provinces since its founders fled Rwanda in the wake of the 1994 genocide. Notably, some 30% of the FDLR’s forces are Congolese [1]. Umoja Wetu, as reported by IRIN (UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs), did little to reduce the threat posed by the FDLR and led to a spate of brutal reprisals against civilians, especially women, and to a new wave of internal displacement.” Oxfam has called it a “humanitarian disaster, and one the world has ignored” [2].

Kimia means “calm” in Kiswahili [3], but the numbers indicate otherwise. An IRIN  report on June 3, 2009 states that there has been a “marked increase in the number of rape cases being recorded in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) province of South Kivu, where Rwandan Hutu militia attacks against civilians have intensified”. Those who were attacked believe that the raids are a warning by the rebels to leave the DRC.

Nestor Yombo, a public information officer with OCHA (UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) reports  that at least 463 cases of rape have been recorded in the past three months – more than half the number reported in the whole of 2008. Most of the rapes were recorded in northern South Kivu, and they coincide with the deployment of Congolese troops in the province in preparation for another anti-FDLR operation.

While the FDLR “rape daily”, Yombo also said that there are also isolated cases of rape perpetrated by the FARDC (national army).

Various international organizations warn that the humanitarian implications as as result of Kimia II are unjustifiable, including Oxfam [2] and the International Crisis Group [4]. An open letter by Human Rights Watch to the UN Security Council this May urges it to ensure that those responsible for human rights abuses are held to account: “UN peacekeepers working alongside the FARDC in Operation Kimia II have been unable to stop Congolese soldiers from committing many serious abuses, nor have they demanded (as a pre-condition for their cooperation) the removal of known human rights abusers from Congolese ranks. Bosco Ntaganda, wanted under an International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrant for war crimes, even has a leadership role in these operations, as confirmed by Congolese army documents leaked last month to Reuters and the BBC. So does Jean-Pierre Biyoyo, who was found guilty by a Congolese military court in March 2006 for recruiting children into a militia. It is unacceptable for the UN and the Security Council to tolerate abusers in such positions: it entrenches a culture of impunity, undermines MONUC’s role in promoting justice, and makes the Council complicit in putting civilians at risk.”

Without even considering the escalating human suffering in the wake of Kimia II–which cannot consciounably be overlooked–the premise on which the collaboration between the DRC and Rwanda is built must be more comprehensively examined. A UN Panel of Experts, who issued their report (S/2008/773) in December 2008, found evidence that Rwanda has provided support to the CNDP, Laurent Nkunda’s rebel forces in the DRC. This includes: complicity in the recruitment of soldiers, including children, facilitating the supply of military equipment, and deploying officers and units of the Rwandan Defense Force (RDF) to the DRC in support of the CNDP.

Despite Rwanda’s repeated denials, the coordinator of the independent group of experts, Jason Stearns, believes that the Rwandan government certainly had knowledge of this, given its fairly organized structure and the evidence described in the report, and have not done anything about it [5].

Evidence in the report showed that the “FDLR collaborated extensively with FARDC” in December 2007 during clashes with the CNDP and that the collaboration has continued during fighting that began at the end of August 2008 [p. 25], and that there is  “extensive cohabitation” between FARDC and FDLR throughout the Kivus, such as mingling at markets, drinking alcohol together in bars, and visiting each other’s command posts.  The Panel believes that this “facilitates the exchange of arms and allows FDLR to travel freely across much of the Kivus” [p. 27-28].

It makes no sense that the current Kimia II operation should proceed in light of this report, which seriously puts the motives and integrity of a DRC-Rwanadan initiative to oust the FDLR in question, notwithstanding Rwanda’s instigatorial role in the DRC conflict itself, and in light of the escalation in human rights abuses in retaliation against the offence from all sides.

It is always worth being aware of economic underpinnings. On June 12, 2009, Reuters reports that the DRC and Rwanda have agreed to a joint project to produce 200 megawatts of power from methane gas reservoirs in the lake on their shared border, a deal that follows on the heels of  Umoja Wetu. The article also reports that Eugene Serufuli, the head of DRC national electricity company, SNEL, said “the deal was also part of the framework of improving relations between countries and would dispel security concerns the investors may have before they get involved in the $300 million plan.” See also this blog post.

Meanwhile, at the two-day retreat at MONUC’s headquarters in Bukavu, the 35 traditional leaders in attendance (I’m guessing that none of them are women) voiced their support for Kimia II. The 30 recommendations made as a result of the retreat include: that MONUC and the Congolese Government should mobilise the necessary resources for the protection of civilian populations; that the Congolese Army and Police should prevent FDLR elements from returning to the liberated zones; that the Congolese Government should pay troop wages regularly and provide them with rations on time to prevent them from preying on the civilian population; that the international community, as requested by the Bami, should provide further assistance to the internally displaced from different territories for the reconstruction of their torched villages by the FDLR, and that International Justice should prosecute the FDLR’s leadership in Europe and America and cut their sources of supply.

-posted by CN

Footnote: The 11 March 2009 Human Rights Report in DRC released by the US Department of State provides some more perspectives on Kimia II:

“During the year independent UN experts and several international and domestic NGOs criticized the FARDC-led Kimia II counterinsurgency operation. In its November report to the UN Security Council, the UNGOE concluded that “military operations against the FDLR have failed to dismantle the organization’s political and military structures on the ground in eastern DRC.” UNSRESAE Alston said the operation, during which MONUC provided logistical support to the FARDC, “has been so poorly carried out that the FDLR has easily been able to reenter villages abandoned by the Congolese and UN forces and commit brutal retaliation massacres of civilians.” Underlining that it was the FARDC themselves who posed the greatest direct risk to civilians in many areas of the Kivus, Alston said the lack of vetting, training, and planning of the integration of former armed group members, especially the ex-CNDP, into the FARDC in the Kivus “has escalated abuses committed by the army against civilians, and failed to break down parallel ex-CNDP command structures within the army.”

In October a coalition of more than 80 human rights and humanitarian NGOs emphasized that Kimia II had resulted in an unacceptable cost for the civilian population, calculating that, for every FDLR combatant who was disarmed during Kimia II, there were seven civilians raped, one killed, and 900 forced to flee. The coalition, which included HRW, Oxfam, and the Enough Project, urged diplomats and UN officials to immediately increase efforts to protect civilians from abuses and strongly recommended that MONUC condition its logistical support for FARDC units involved in Kimia II on respect for human rights. By year’s end, MONUC had invoked a more strenuous interpretation of conditionality, cutting off assistance to a FARDC brigade (see subsection below) that was involved in civilian killings, as documented by the UNJHRO.

While there was inadequate civilian protection and a well-documented and significant humanitarian cost due to the military operations in the Kivus and Orientale, the government and MONUC, as well as some NGOs and foreign diplomats, argued some of the military objectives of the operations, particularly in Orientale against the LRA, were accomplished. Some NGOs expressed concern that the FARDC’s military objectives in the Kivus were not well defined; however, there were some successes. For example, in the Kivus, FDLR elements were pushed away from most major cities and towns and further into the bush. The FDLR was also denied access to some of its most profitable mining areas. Finally, MONUC estimated that more than 1,114 FDLR were killed during Kimia II and that, between January and December, a total of 1,522 FDLR combatants and 2,187 of their dependents were repatriated to Rwanda.”

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Filed under 2009, DRC historical context