Tag Archives: DR Congo

DR Congo opposition leader arrested on mercenary charges

Reuters

Democratic Republic of Congo opposition presidential candidate Moise Katumbi has been summoned to appear before a prosecutor on Monday to respond to accusations that he hired foreign mercenaries, his lawyer said on Saturday.

Justice Minister Alexis Thambwe Mwamba ordered the national prosecutor general on Wednesday to investigate Katumbi’s alleged use of mercenaries, including several retired American soldiers.

Hours later, Katumbi declared himself a candidate for president in an election scheduled for November.

Katumbi’s lawyer, King Kasongo Mushilanama, told Reuters that his client had received a summons on Saturday to appear in the office of the prosecutor general of Congo’s second city of Lubumbashi on Monday to respond to the government’s charges.

Katumbi will comply with the summons, he added.

Katumbi has denied the charges and accused the government of resorting to smear tactics. The U.S. Embassy in the capital Kinshasa also said that it believed the accusations were false.

Tensions are high ahead of the election in part because President Joseph Kabila, in power since 2001, has not declared whether he plans to step down this year, as required by the constitution.

The poll looks likely to be postponed as the government cites budgetary and logistical obstacles to holding it on time. Critics say Kabila is deliberately delaying the vote in order to remain in power after his mandate ends.

Kabila has not commented publicly on his intentions. He has instead called for a national dialogue to clear the way for elections to take place.

Kasongo also said that Katumbi’s farm outside of Lubumbashi was searched on Saturday by elite Republican Guard troops, who are responsible for guarding the president and securing strategic installations.

Government spokesman Lambert Mende said he could not confirm the search, as it is a judicial matter, but added that Congolese law permits the use of the Republican Guard in such situations.

The prosecutor general in Lubumbashi was not immediately available for comment.

Katumbi governed Katanga, Congo’s southeastern copper-mining heartland, from 2007 until last September when he quit Kabila’s ruling party, accusing it of plotting to keep the president in power beyond a two-term limit.

Dozens of people were killed in protests in January 2015 over alleged efforts by Kabila to extend his stay in power. Since then, authorities have arrested dozens of Kabila’s critics on what the United Nations and human rights groups say are trumped-up charges.

(Additional reporting and writing by Aaron Ross in Kinshasa; Editing by Joe Bavier and Digby Lidstone)

DR Congo – former V-P Bemba found guilty of war crimes by international court

Al Jazeera

ICC says Bemba guilty of commanding militia that went on a murder, rape and pillage spree in Central African Republic.

Prosecutors argued Bemba's forces 'raped their victims at gunpoint anywhere and at any time' [Peter Dejong/EPA]
Prosecutors argued Bemba’s forces ‘raped their victims at gunpoint anywhere and at any time’ [Peter Dejong/EPA]

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has found former Congolese vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Central African Republic more than a decade ago.

The verdicts announced on Monday focused on the responsibility of a military commander for the actions of his troops, as Bemba commanded a private army of 1,500 men who went on a spree of murder, rape and pillage.

The charges – two of crimes against humanity and three of war crimes – stem from his militia’s intervention on the side of CAR’s then-president Ange-Felix Patasse in the neighbouring country’s civil war.

 Congolese fighters want amnesty

Bemba’s long-running trial was the first at the ICC to feature allegations of systematic sexual abuse by soldiers in a conflict.

Al Jazeera’s Paul Brennan, reporting from The Hague, said the ICC’s ruling was historic in several ways.

“Bemba is not only the most senior political leader ever to have been brought to judgement here at the International Criminal Court at The Hague, but what makes this particular case a landmark ruling is the fact that it has put rape as a weapon of war,” Brennan said.

Human rights activists welcomed the conviction.

Descartes Mponge, secretary general of Congolese rights group ACADHOSHA, said the judgment “strengthens the ICC’s credibility in Africa where it is accused of bias and politicisation”.

Bemba is a wealthy businessman whose Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) militia and political party vied for dominance in the country in the early 2000s.

Summing up the case against Bemba in November 2014, prosecution lawyer Horejah Bala-Gaye told judges that Bemba’s forces “raped their victims at gunpoint anywhere and at any time”.

Bemba’s lawyers told judges in their closing arguments that there was insufficient evidence to convict him.

‘Bemba had no control’

The ICC’s prosecutors said Bemba knew, or should have known, that his MLC soldiers were committing crimes.

During the five-year trial, 40 witnesses testified. One described being raped by two MLC soldiers. She was later diagnosed with HIV/AIDS.

Bemba’s lawyers said that he had no control over the MLC’s campaign in CAR, during which they claim its soldiers were fully under Patasse’s command.

His arrest in 2008 came as a surprise both to Bemba and his supporters and opponents at home. He had been living in semi-exile in Europe for several years when prosecutors sprung a trap by issuing an arrest warrant during a visit to Belgium, Congo’s former colonial master.

Speaking slowly, presiding judge Sylvia Steiner read out a chilling list of rapes and atrocities, detailing how MLC forces had deliberately targeted civilians as part of a “modus operandi” as they sought to halt the coup bid against Patasse.

Men, women and children were all raped – in one case three generations of the same family were gang-raped by MLC soldiers who held them at gun point and forced relatives to watch.

Bemba will be sentenced at a later date and could face up to 30 years in jail – or even a life sentence, if the court considers that it is “justified by the extreme gravity of the crime”.

DR Congo – civilians hacked to death by Ugandan ADF rebels

Reuters

Suspected Ugandan rebels used machetes to kill at least 12 civilians on Monday in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, authorities and a local human rights group said, the latest in a series of targeted attacks over the last 18 months.

Rebels from the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), an Islamist group originally from Uganda that has operated in the border region since the 1990s, carried out the killings in the village of Mamabio, 50 km (30 miles) north of the commercial centre of Beni, said territorial administrator Amisi Kalonda.

“The bodies were found lying in different places. (The rebels) also ransacked the health centre,” said Kalonda, who said 13 people were killed.

The Centre of Study for the Promotion of Peace, Democracy and Human Rights, a local organization that documents violence in the region, confirmed the killings in a statement, saying 12 were killed.

Hundreds of civilians have been killed in dozens of raids near Beni since Oct 2014, defying repeated offensives by Congolese and U.N. peacekeepers against the ADF, who are believed to have only several hundred fighters.

A U.N. panel of experts and independent analysts, however, have questioned the DRC government’s near blanket attribution of responsibility to the ADF, saying that other armed groups are likely involved.

(Reporting By Aaron Ross, editing by Edward McAllister)

DR Congo – opposition leader detained ahead of ant-Kabila strike

Reuters

Authorities in Democratic Republic of Congo arrested a prominent opposition leader on Sunday, the United Nations said, two days before a planned general strike that will call for President Joseph Kabila to step down from office this year.

Kabila is required by the constitution to stand aside in December after 15 years in power. Critics accuse him of trying to delay a presidential vote slated for November in order to stay in office. Dozens died in protests over the issue in January last year.

Martin Fayulu, president of the Engagement for Citizenship and Development (ECIDE) party and one of the organisers of Tuesday’s strike, was detained at his party headquarters in the early afternoon, said Jose Maria Aranaz, director of the U.N.’s Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO) in Congo.

Opposition leaders have called for all Congolese people to stay at home on Tuesday. It is not clear how well observed the strike is likely to be.

“It’s the same pattern of intimidation contrary to freedom of peaceful assembly enshrined in the constitution,” said Aranaz.

Aranaz said it was unclear if Fayulu had been arrested by the police or military. Blaise Munizi, a parliamentarian from ECIDE, said that Fayulu was in the custody of Congo’s intelligence services.

The government could not be immediately reached for comment.

(Reporting By Aaron Ross; Editing by Edward McAllister and Ros Russell)

DR Congo opposition calls for strike to bring Kabila down

Reuters

Opposition leaders in Democratic Republic of Congo called for a general strike next Tuesday to press President Joseph Kabila to step down when his mandate expires at the end of the year.

The decision represents a retreat from earlier plans for a mass pro-democracy march after the powerful Catholic church pulled its support last month, saying the event had been co-opted by political interests.

Kabila succeeded his assassinated father in 2001 and won disputed elections in 2006 and 2011. Critics accuse him of trying to skirt constitutional term limits and stay in power by delaying a presidential election slated for November. Dozens died in Jan. 2015 in protests over the issue.

“We are called upon to stay at home, to not go to work and to not send our children to school,” opposition leader Charles Mwando Simba told reporters in the capital, Kinshasa, flanked by leaders from most major opposition parties.

Kabila has refused to comment on his future and has appealed for dialogue to resolve difficulties in organising this year’s voting. The opposition rejects dialogue as a delaying tactic and says protest is needed to force Kabila to hold a presidential vote this year.

The election commission took a step on Wednesday toward restarting the process by rescheduling elections for interim provincial governors for March 26, commission spokesman Jean-Pierre Kalamba told Reuters.

Local, provincial and national elections, originally slated for 2015 and 2016, could not be held until new governors were installed, Congo’s highest court ruled last September. The consequent delays after that ruling threw the entire election schedule into disarray.

Kalamba did not say when an election calendar with the presidential poll would be released. The commission plans to update voter rolls before national elections, a process it has said could take 13 to 16 months.

Also on Wednesday, Human Rights Watch urged the U.S. government to impose targeted sanctions, including travel bans and asset freezes, on Congolese officials responsible for what it called a violent crackdown on Kabila’s election critics.

In testimony before Congress on Tuesday, U.S. Special Envoy for Africa’s Great Lakes region, Tom Perriello, said Washington is considering “measures including sanctions to hold accountable individuals who threaten the peace and security of the DRC.”

(Additional reporting by Amedee Mwarabu Kiboko; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)

DR Congo – Peacekeepers and army to resume joint fight against Rwandan rebels

Reuters

Democratic Republic of Congo’s army and U.N. peacekeepers agreed on Thursday to resume military cooperation against Rwandan Hutu rebels, the U.N. mission said, beefing up efforts to root out one of the region’s most notorious rebel groups.

The U.N. mission pulled out of a planned joint offensive against the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) a year ago after the government named two generals the U.N. suspects of widespread human rights abuses to command it.

The FDLR includes former Hutu militiamen responsible for Rwanda’s 1994 genocide who then fled into eastern Congo. Its presence on Congolese soil has been cited as a reason for a series of military interventions by Rwanda.

Millions died of conflict, hunger and disease during a 1998-2003 war in eastern Congo, fuelled by Rwandan intervention, and the region remains plagued by dozens of armed groups that exploit its vast reserves of gold, diamonds and other minerals.

Thursday’s agreement was signed in the capital Kinshasa by Congo Defence Minister Crispin Atama Tabe and U.N. deputy mission chief David Gressly, the latter told Reuters.

“Where we jointly agree that there is a common objective, we will work in a coordinated way using whatever assets we determine, collectively, make the most sense,” Gressly said. Assistance, he said, could range from logistical aid to armed support by troops from MONUSCO, as the U.N. mission is known.

The Congo army’s spokesman said he was not aware of the agreement. The government spokesman and defence minister could not be immediately reached for comment.

Gressly said the two sides agreed to establish a formal mechanism to address allegations of human rights abuses by commanders and that MONUSCO had also put in place a new internal assessment system to reduce the risk of rights violations.

After the government refused to withdraw the generals and launched unilateral operations against the FDLR last February, MONUSCO said it would accept other measures to guard against abuses. But talks about resuming cooperation stalled for months.

While the government says its ongoing military efforts have decimated the FDLR, U.N. officials and independent analysts say the offensive has been hampered by poor logistics and has failed to kill or capture key rebel leaders.

(Reporting by Aaron Ross; Editing by Joe Bavier/Mark Heinrich)

DR Congo – can Colgolese army and forces unite to fight Hutu rebels?

IRIN

  
Photo: Guy Oliver/IRIN

MONUSCO troops providing an armed escort

KINSHASA, 15 January 2016 (IRIN) – A year ago, the Congolese army and MONUSCO, the UN peacekeeping force in the Democratic Republic of Congo, were supposed to launch joint operations to take on Rwandan Hutu rebels. Everything was planned down to the last detail, before a major difference of opinion stopped the effort in its tracks.
What fouled everything up?
The Congolese government was already highly irritated by MONUSCO’s criticism of its poor human rights record and its democratic shortcomings when the head of the mission at the time, Germany’s Martin Kobler, demanded that two Congolese generals, Bruno Mandevu and Fall Sikabwe, be replaced before operations began due to suspected human rights violations.
Kinshasa refused to change the commanding officers it had selected for the mission and strongly denounced what it decried as an intrusion into Congolese sovereignty.
The result of this diplomatic tussle: the UN headquarters in New York announced that MONUSCO was pulling its support for the Congolese army, which responded on 28 January by attacking the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) rebels on its own.
According to several military and civilian sources, the FDLR – believed to then number about 1,500 fighters, including some Congolese nationals – largely refused to be drawn into the fight and succeeded in dodging most of the army’s offensives.
What threat do the rebels pose today?
While UN experts stressed in October that the FDLR’s capacity was intact, Kinshasa announced on 12 January that the army had neutralised “more than 1,000” rebels in 2015, and claims fewer than 400 are still on the run. 
Although it is now drawing down, MONUSCO has become one of the largest missions in the world with around 20,000 peacekeepers, a budget of $1.35 billion, and sophisticated equipment like surveillance drones. Since March 2013, it has also had the Force Intervention Brigade at its disposal. This separate 3,000-strong combat force is comprised of South African, Tanzanian, and Malawian soldiers with a unique mandate to go after rebel forces, but operates under MONUSCO’s command and control.
Since the bust-up, the Congolese army and MONUSCO have carried out several joint operations, notably in June against the Front for Patriotic Resistance in Ituri (FRPI), and in November against Ugandan rebels from the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) in response to an unprecedented wave of attacks that left at least 24 dead, including eight civilians, four soldiers, and one UN peacekeeper.
But there has still been no official joint offensive against the FDLR, whose leaders participated in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda before fleeing to eastern Congo. Concerned about the general stability of the Great Lakes region, infected for the past 20 years by the poisonous presence of these rebels, the international community is urging renewed cooperation and a return of the “strategic dialogue” that MONUSCO and Kinshasa began in March 2015.
This dialogue must define the future objectives of the UN mission, deployed since 1999, in the midst of the Second Congo War (1998-2003). It must also draw up the parameters for its withdrawal. This is expected to be gradual and dependent on the situation in the east, where dozens of armed groups, both local and foreign, are waging myriad conflicts for ethnic reasons, land, or for control of valuable natural resources like minerals and wood.
How active are the rebel groups?
The FDLR is mainly active in the provinces of North Kivu and South Kivu. Over time, it has lost a number of fighters to MONUSCO’s Disarmament, Demobilisation, Repatriation, Reintegration and Resettlement (DDRRR) programme, which in 2002 repatriated more than 12,500 ex-FDLR fighters and as many again of their family members.
See: Sapping the strength of DRC militias
The rebels – who deny accusations of murder, rape, child enrolment, and of generally pillaging Congolese civilians – have been weakened by several military offensives, including Umoja Wetu (Our Unity, in Swahili) in 2009, when the Congolese and Rwandan militaries acted in concert. Congolese and UN operations followed: Kimia (Peace, in Swahili) and Amani Leo (Peace Now, in Swahili).

  
Photo: Guy Oliver/IRIN

Still partners? An FARDC soldier in Virunga National Park, Rutshuru Territory, North Kivu Province

The Congolese army says the hunt for the FDLR, with whom some officers allegedly collude to traffic minerals, was derailed by the creation in North Kivu in May 2012 of the March 23 Movement (M23). According to UN experts, this Congolese Tutsi rebellion was backed by Rwanda and Uganda, although both countries deny this. In November 2013, after the defeat of the M23 by the army and MONUSCO, the Congolese government announced the FDLR as the next target.
Instead they went after the ADF. Since October 2014, the supposedly weakened Ugandan rebel group has been blamed for killing some 500 men, women, and children in Beni Territory in northern North Kivu, where its founders – opponents of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni – have hidden out since 1995.
At the end of 2013, the FDLR earned a reprieve after announcing it would lay down its arms and commit to peace. In exchange, it hoped to obtain the support of the international community to return to Rwanda and open up a dialogue with Kigali, which categorically refuses to offer an amnesty. Ultimately, the surrender plan has been a failure: barely 200 fighters have turned themselves in.
How is the MONUSCO drawdown going?
The UN has taken some measures to try to encourage the Congolese government to reopen dialogue. Maman Sidikou, of Niger, has replaced Kobler, and a South African general, Derrick Mgwebi, has relieved Brazil’s Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz as MONUSCO’s commanding officer. Kinshasa is understood to be happy about the choice of the two Africans, reckoning that there will be fewer “misunderstandings” now.
In another olive branch, in his MONUSCO report to the Security Council dated 24 December, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he planned to retool the mission by giving it rapid response units, greater mobility generally, and boosting its surveillance and intelligence-gathering capabilities.
In this context, he added, a reduction in MONUSCO personnel should not weaken civilian protection: the core of the UN peacekeeping mandate. The plan foresees the withdrawal of 1,700 soldiers in addition to 2,000 whose departure was already decided in March 2015 – against the demands of the Congolese government, which originally pushed for the withdrawal of 7,000 before revising this number downwards.
If the UN Security Council decides – possibly in March, when MONUSCO’s mandate is up for renewal – to withdraw the additional 1,700 peacekeepers, this will perhaps be a way to “keep to the blueprint proposed by Kinshasa,” a high-ranking Congolese officer told IRIN, on condition of anonymity. He therefore welcomed what he called “a first encouraging step” from the UN, but underlined that “some officials believe the threshold of 7,000 must be achieved by the end of the year”.
Too soon to draw down?
Whatever the number, Juvénal Munubo, a lawmaker and member of the Congolese parliament’s Defense and Security Commission, is wary. “The reduction in MONUSCO numbers must not have as its sole justification the desire of the Congolese government to boast about its sovereignty,” he said. “It must be the result of actual progress in the reform of the Congolese security sector – something that is far from being the case today.”
Munubo’s point was underlined by a recent massacre. In the night of the 6th and 7th of January, some 15 people of the Nande ethnic minority were killed by men armed with knives in the Miriki area of Lubero, a territory in the northwest of North Kivu Province. The identity of the perpetrators remains unclear but the killings have been widely blamed on the FDLR, despite its denials.
The massacre occurred near MONUSCO and Congolese army positions, prompting angry demonstrations against both. Bullets were fired, apparently by the Congolese army, and one demonstrator was killed. 
Shortly after the massacre, an army spokesman announced that reinforcements had been deployed to Miriki to keep people safe and track down the FDLR. His statement implied that the army and MONUSCO were preparing the launch of a joint operation against the Rwandan rebels. A defense department official confirmed this, although the UN would only allude to unofficial collaboration until an official announcement on the resumption of such a partnership by Congolese President Joseph Kabila.

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