Tag Archives: DRC rebels

DR Congo – Why fighting fire with fire in Virunga Park isn’t helping conservation

The Conversation

A patrol post in Virunga. Using the army to fight illegal resource exploitation aggravates conflict. Author supplied

Conserving nature in areas immersed in prolonged violent conflict is challenging. One such area is the Virunga National Park, located in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The park management tries to face these challenges head-on with the aim of protecting Virunga’s rich biodiversity. In particular, the survival of the well-known endangered mountain gorilla is at stake.

It would be wrong to question the objectives, dedication, and sacrifices made by the park management and staff. Many rangers have lost their lives in the line of duty. But based on our research in the region, we have doubts about the effects of the park’s current policies on conflict and violence in the wider Virunga area.

As we show certain conservation practices – like strict law enforcement to combat illegal resources exploitation by armed groups – can inadvertently aggravate violent conflict. They may, for example, reinforce the links between populations and the armed groups on whom they depend for their livelihoods. This undermines conservation efforts in the long-term.

Devising alternative policies for addressing armed groups is no easy task. But as we discuss in a recent article, there’s remarkably little debate on this issue. The media and policymakers pay limited attention to the effects of the park’s policies on the dynamics of violent conflict. In fact, the dominant story line is that the Virunga National Park contributes to peace building. But the reality on the ground is much more complex, as we discovered talking to people who live in the area.

Battling armed groups

A plethora of armed groups operates in and around the Virunga National Park. Their presence isn’t specific to the park: tens of dozens of armed groups roam the eastern Congo, reflecting a militarisation that has become self-sustaining. But there’s a particularly high concentration of such groups in the park.

It provides cover and access to populations and natural resources needed to generate revenue. For instance armed groups are engaged in facilitating charcoal production, poaching, illegal fishing, and “guerilla agriculture”, or cultivation where it’s forbidden.

The effects of these activities on Virunga’s biodiversity are devastating. Illegal fishing contributes to the rapid depletion of fish stock, not least as it often takes place in the waters where fish breed. Charcoal production, for its part, is at the root of intense deforestation, which has grave consequences for the entire ecosystem.

But while depleting the park’s resources, thousands of people living in the Virunga area depend on illegal resources exploitation for their livelihoods. They pay armed groups to access the park and protect such revenue generating activities. The resulting links between people and armed groups complicate efforts to tackle illegal resources exploitation.

As we discuss in recent work, the park management tries to address armed groups by collaborating with the Congolese army. So park rangers conduct joint operations with army soldiers to push armed groups out of the park. As a result, conservation has come to merge with counter-insurgency. But this approach is counterproductive.

The park management tries to address armed groups by collaborating with the Congolese army, this approach is counterproductive. Author supplied

Clashes in the park

First, the operations are not part of wider political and socio-economic measures to deal with armed groups. Thus far the Congolese government has failed to develop such measures. This means that the armed groups are temporarily dislocated, rather than dissolved. The result is a vicious cycle of attacks and counter-attacks between armed groups and the mixed units of park guards and army soldiers. This rising violence doesn’t only increase the insecurity of inhabitants, but also puts the lives of the park guards further at risk.

Second, the tensions sparked by the operations seem to drive people closer to armed groups, causing the park guards in turn to develop growing animosity towards them. Because populations depend on illegal revenue generation activities in the park, and no alternative livelihood activities are offered after the operations, people feel they have little choice but to solicit the protection of armed groups to re-access the park.

Third, the operations feed into conflicts over land, local authority and between different communities. In the Rutshuru area, for instance, tensions between Hutu and Nande populations have intensified over the past months. This is partly due to military operations by the Congolese army against a Hutu armed group that operates in the park.

Any attack against an armed group alters the fragile power equilibrium between armed groups, allied elite networks, and associated civilian communities which often have the same ethnic background as armed group leaderships. So efforts to push armed groups out of the park risk setting in motion a chain of reactions that may spiral out of control.

Dominant stories

It’s widely reported that the Virunga Park is plagued by armed conflict. But this reporting often echoes heart of darkness clichés or simple storylines pitting bad guys (savage rebels) against good guys (usually the park guards and staff). These narratives are rarely accompanied by indepth reflections on the causes of the violence, which tend to be simply ascribed to resources plunder.

Also, by stressing that Virunga is the most dangerous park in the world to work, it becomes taken for granted that conservation has merged with counter-insurgency.

Attention to spectacular figures like the heroic park guards and evil rebels overshadows attention to the people living in or along the borders of the park. Their voices are rarely heard. But their accounts give a different picture than mainstream representations and show how people are suffering under the rising insecurity.

Another reason why the park’s current policies aren’t questioned is that donors and the park management have institutional interests in diffusing a seductive “triple-win rhetoric.” They emphasise that the park promotes at once conservation and development as well as peace building. This would prove that Virunga is an area that works compared with the rest of the DRC, which is viewed as a “failed state”. Such narratives of success ensure that aid, mainly coming from the European Commission, and donations continue to flow.

The current park management is based on a public private partnership (PPP) between the Congolese state agency for nature conservation and a British NGO, the Virunga Foundation. The NGO has assumed full responsibility for the park’s management. As it’s a European NGO who supervises the park guards -– who moreover have received military training by former Belgian commandos -– western audiences appear to ask less questions about the ways in which violent force is employed and how this affects conflict dynamics and people’s security.

So the blind spots in the complex interplay between conservation and violent conflict stem to a large extent from deeply rooted unequal power relations between the North and the South. These inequalities cause certain narratives, policy options and voices to be heard, and others to be excluded. This means that the decolonisation of nature conservation is a precondition for its demilitarisation.

Dr Congo-ICC – Bemba and associates

Bemba Trial Website/allAfrica

Congolese opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba alongside four associates, who include two of his former defense lawyers, have been convicted in the witness bribery trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC). Their sentences will be announced at a later date.

Upon conviction for offenses against the administration of justice covered by Article 70 of the court’s Rome Statute, judges may impose a term of imprisonment not exceeding five years, a fine, or both. Today judges ordered that those convicted, besides Bemba, would remain on conditional release pending the determination of their penalties.

Bemba and his former lawyers Aimé Kilolo Musamba and Jean-Jacques Mangenda Kabongo were found guilty of corruptly influencing 14 witnesses – D-2, D-3, D-4, D-6, D-13, D-15, D-23, D-25, D-26, D-29, D-54, D-55, D-57, and D-64 – and presenting their false evidence before the court.

Furthermore, Kilolo was found guilty of inducing the giving of false testimony by the 14 witnesses, while Bemba was additionally convicted for soliciting the giving of false testimony. The judges also determined that Mangenda aided in the giving of false testimony by two witnesses and abetted the giving of false testimony by seven witnesses. Mangenda was acquitted of charges of aiding the giving of false testimony by five witnesses.

Congolese Member of Parliament Fidèle Babala Wandu, who is Bemba’s close confidante, was found guilty of aiding in corruptly influencing two witnesses but acquitted of similar charges in relation to 12 witnesses. Babala was also acquitted of charges of aiding in giving false evidence and presenting false evidence.

Meanwhile, Narcisse Arido, a former soldier in the Central African Republic (CAR), was found guilty of corruptly influencing three witnesses but acquitted on charges of aiding in presentation of false evidence and in aiding the giving of false testimony.

 The false testimony mostly related to claims by witnesses that they served in the army of the CAR, or in rebel forces, during 2002-2003 when Bemba’s troops were in that country helping the government to fight back a coup attempt. These witnesses claimed Bemba’s Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) troops were not responsible for the crimes committed during the conflict and that the Congolese troops fell under command of Central African generals.

Judges determined that Bemba, Kilolo, and Mangenda jointly agreed to illicitly interfere with defense witnesses to ensure they would provide evidence in favor of Bemba. They “adopted a series of measures with a view to concealing their illicit activities, such as the abuse of the Registry’s privileged line in the ICC Detention Center, or money transfers to defense witnesses through third persons or to persons close to the defense.”

They said Kilolo and Mangenda secretly distributed new telephones to defense witnesses without the knowledge of the Registry and in breach of the cut-off date for contacts imposed by judges so that Kilolo could stay in contact with them. “They also used coded language when speaking on the telephone, making reference to persons by using codes, or using particular expressions… signifying the bribing or illicit coaching of witnesses,” states the summary judgement issued today.

Today’s ruling brings to eight the number of individuals convicted by the court since its founding in 2002. Those previously convicted are Thomas Lubanga, Germain Katanga, Ahmed Al Faqi Al Mahdi, and Bemba. Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui, a former leader of a Congolese militia group, has hitherto been the only person acquitted by the ICC.

DR Congo – 64 killed in machete massacre in North Kivu

Al Jazeera

At least 64 bodies recovered near Beni town in North Kivu, but local authorities warn death toll could rise.

At least 64 people have been killed in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in an attack carried out by suspected rebels.

Nyonyi Bwanakawa, the mayor of Beni in North Kivu, told Al Jazeera the attack on Saturday night happened in the town’s Rwangoma district.

READ MORE: UN peacekeepers in the DRC no longer trusted to protect

DRC troops and local officials recovered 64 bodies, but the number could rise as the search was still going on, Bwanakawa said on Sunday.

Other officials said the death toll was closer to 75.

DRC army spokesman Mak Hazukay also confirmed to the AFP news agency that bodies have been recovered in Rwangoma.

Beni, DR Congo [Al Jazeera]

Reports said that the victims were “hacked to death”.

Reagen Kyaviro, a survivor, told Al Jazeera that the attackers had turned up outside of his house.

“The guy in front turned his weapon on me. When I tried to run away from the house, he hit me on the neck with the side of his gun. He took me by my shirt. I was forced to run. By chance, they did not follow me.”

The DRC troops blamed the attack on the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a Ugandan rebel group known to operate bases inside neighbouring DRC.

Hazukay said that the rebels had “bypassed” army positions “to come and massacre the population in revenge” for military operations in the area.

Local residents also told Al Jazeera that they had spotted ADF rebels coming out of the forest on Saturday. There was some confusion, however, as some residents said that some of the men were wearing “army uniforms”.

The attack happened barely a week after 14 people were killed in another incident near Beni.

ADF troops were also suspected of carrying out that attack, but there was no independent confirmation.

In the past, independent observers have blamed both the ADF rebels and DRC forces for deadly attacks.

On August 4, DRC President Joseph Kabila and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni held talks in Uganda seeking a coordinated military strategy against the ADF rebels.

ADF rebels, who oppose Museveni, have been present in eastern DRC for more than 20 years.

The group has been accused of human rights abuses and is thought to be deeply embroiled in criminal networks funded by kidnappings, smuggling and logging.

The Beni area in particular has seen numerous massacres since October 2014 that have left in total more than 600 civilians dead.

The attack on Saturday happened barely a week after 14 people were killed in another incident near Beni [AFP]

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

DR Congo – former rebel leader Bemba jailed for 18 years for war crimes


Jean-Pierre Bemba sits in the courtroom of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, The Netherlands, 21 June 2016EPA Jean-Pierre Bemba’s lawyers say they will appeal

Congolese ex-rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba has been jailed for 18 years following a landmark conviction at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes and sexual violence.

Bemba, a former vice-president of DR Congo, was convicted in March of crimes committed in the neighbouring Central African Republic (CAR) in 2002-2003.

He was accused of failing to stop his rebels from killing and raping people.

Bemba’s lawyers have already said they will appeal against his conviction.

Judges announced sentences of between 16 and 18 years for five counts of rape, murder and pillaging, with the jail terms running concurrently. The eight years Bemba has already spent in custody will be deducted from his term.

His conviction was the first time the ICC had focused on rape as a weapon of war, and the first time a suspect had been convicted for crimes committed by others under his command.

Passing sentence at the ICC in The Hague, Judge Sylvia Steiner said Bemba had failed to exercise control over his private militia sent into CAR, where they carried out “sadistic” rapes, murders and pillaging of “particular cruelty”.

The BBC’s Anna Holligan, who is in The Hague, says two key issues remain – where Bemba will serve his sentence and the amount of compensation to be awarded to his victims.

Who is Jean-Pierre Bemba?

Jean Pierre BembaGETTY IMAGES Bemba had good relations with some of Africa’s leaders
  • A well-connected businessman and the son of prominent Congolese businessman Bemba Saolona
  • 1998: Helped by Uganda to form MLC rebel group in Democratic Republic of Congo
  • 2003: Becomes vice-president under peace deal
  • 2006: Loses run-off election to President Joseph Kabila but gets most votes in western DR Congo, including Kinshasa
  • 2007: Flees to Belgium after clashes in Kinshasa
  • 2008: Arrested in Brussels and handed over to ICC
  • 2010: Trial begins
  • 2016: Found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity

Bemba was “extremely disappointed” with the sentence, his lawyer, Kate Gibson, told AFP news agency.

“Today’s sentence is by no means the end of the road for Mr Bemba, it merely signals that we are now moving to the next phase of the process which is the appeal,” she said.

In 2002 Bemba had sent more than 1,000 fighters to the CAR to help then president Ange Felix Patasse put down an attempted coup.

The court heard that his troops committed acts of extreme violence against civilians – crimes which the judge said Bemba was made aware of but did nothing to stop.

He had led the MLC (Movement for the Liberation of Congo) rebel group during DR Congo’s brutal civil war and after a 2003 peace deal he laid down his arms and joined an interim government.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the sentence offered “a measure of justice” for the victims.

“Other commanders should take notice that they, too, can be held accountable for rapes and other serious abuses committed by troops under their control,” said Geraldine Mattioli-Zeltner, HRW’s international justice advocacy director.

The MLC is now a major opposition party in DR Congo and Secretary General Eve Bazaiba criticised the ICC ruling and sentence.

“We will never cease denouncing the selective justice of the ICC,” she told supporters in the capital Kinshasa.

DR Congo – insecurity persists in north-east


A counterinsurgency failure in eastern Congo

By Claude Muhindo Sengenya

Photo: Jessica Hatcher/IRIN

Before the latest attack “people had begun to relax.” (File photo of Beni town).

OICHA, Democratic Republic of Congo, 11 September 2015 (IRIN) – The lull was broken last weekend. After months of relative calm in Beni Territory, northeast Democratic Republic of Congo, attackers descended on two villages, killing nine people.

As with similar incidents over the past year or so, officials attributed the machete attack to the Allied Democratic Forces, an insurgency of Ugandan origin based in eastern Congo.  
“We are worried by these events,” said Jean-Paul Ngahangondi, national coordinator of the Beni-based Convention for the Respect of Human Rights, an NGO.
These rebels are brutally killing civilians, even just a few metres from army or UN peacekeeper positions. Whenever there are new attacks we don’t bother to report it to the authorities because no solution is ever found.”
Over the last 11 months, more than 450 people have been killed in similar incidents blamed on the ADF, according to a tally published by Rafiki, a local monthly newspaper.
Before Saturday night’s attack on the villages of Ntoyi and Mukida, “people had begun to relax in big towns like Oicha,” said Stanley Muhindo, a journalist with the Catholic radio station Moto Oicha.
“But now trouble has come back.”
And with it, questions about the security forces’ response to the violence. The Congolese army and UN peacekeepers began joint operations against the ADF in January 2014, capturing major rebel bases, weapons and ammunition. Hundreds of abducted civilians have been freed, including three Catholic priests kidnapped in October 2012. 
The deadly attacks of past months share several grisly hallmarks, as described in a May report by senior Catholic clergy: “The criminals kill brutally with machetes, knives or axes. The throats of some victims are cut, the arms of children mutilated, the bellies of pregnant women cut open, and whole families wiped out.” 
Many wonder how a group said to be so critically weakened by counter-insurgency operations could put up such a show of force.
One explanation was put forward by the UN Group of Experts on the DRC, who noted in their final report released in early 2015 that the operations had done little to disrupt the leadership and support networks of the ADF, networks that extend from many towns in eastern DRC to neighbouring Uganda, Rwanda and even as far away as the UK.
Restructuring, rearming


And according to the Rafiki newspaper, “since January 2015, our sources indicate that the ADF and its accomplices have extricated weapons from caches located between Oicha and Eringeti, in the south of Lubero territory. To move this cargo around, they use trucks carrying palm oil.”
Since the arrest in April of ADF leader Jamil Mukulu, his sons have reportedly taken over a reorganisation of the group, similar to those that took place after military operations in 2005 and 2010.

Photo: Guy Oliver/IRIN

Despite capturing several rebel bases, the Congolese army has not succeeded in dismantling the ADF.

“We are not only concerned about their socio-economic reorganisation,” said presidential envoy Clovis Munihire, whose main job is to oversee the restoration of state authority in eastern Congo. “They are recruiting young Muslims from North and South Kivu provinces, and even some nearby countries.”

Another impediment is the straining of relations between the army and the UN mission since the government in January pulled out of planned joint operations against another armed group active in the east, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda.
According to Nicaise Kibel Bel’Oka, who directs the Centre for Geopolitical Study and Research of Eastern Congo, Kinshasa should do more to seek Uganda’s help.
“We shouldn’t content ourselves with cooperation limited to passing intelligence reports from one office to another,” he told IRIN.
“Several times the ADF travelled through Ugandan districts adjacent to Beni, but what does Kampala do, just send reports? Uganda must also send troops to the front. After all, they are their rebels.”
Asked to respond to this, Ugandan army spokesman Paddy Ankunda told IRIN: “As we speak, there is no such request from the DRC authorities for us to take a robust action against ADF rebels in their territory. We can’t go or deploy in DRC without their request and authorisation.”
“We are always alert and on standby,” added Ronald Kakurungu, spokesman for the army’s second division, which is based in western Uganda, on the Congolese border. “We have troops deployed at our common borders with DRC to ensure the ADF doesn’t cross into the country to cause any havoc.
If they attempt to do so [cross], we shall deal with them decisively.”
For Bel’Oka, a key problem is that the leaders and supporters of the ADF “are among the local [Congolese population]. That’s why people are being punished and killed – when they don’t want to collaborate. That’s been the way for a long time.”
[Additional reporting by Samuel Okiror in Kampala]

DR Congo – Ntaganda trial begins at ICC

Al Jazeera

Former rebel leader pleads not guilty as he faces 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity at ICC trial.

Catherine Soi | 02 Sep 2015 

Former Congolese warlord Bosco “Terminator” Ntaganda has pleaded not guilty before the International Criminal Court (ICC) where he is being tried for war crimes, including the rape of child soldiers within his own rebel force.

The former leader of rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo, who turned himself in two years ago, faces 18 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity at his trial, which opened at The Hague on Wednesday.

Prosecutors say Ntaganda played a central role in savage ethnic attacks on civilians in the mineral-rich and restive northeastern Congolese province of Ituri in 2002-2003, in a conflict rights groups believe left some 60,000 dead since 1999.

Ntaganda “recruited hundreds of children … and used them to kill and to die in the fighting”, ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said.

Girl soldiers were “routinely raped”, the prosecutor added.

She brushed aside criticism that the court was targeting just one ethnic group for prosecution.

“This trial is about Bosco Ntaganda and how he took advantage of the ethnic tensions in Ituri to gain power and money,” she said.

Prosecutors have collected 8,000 pages of evidence and plan to call some 80 witnesses – 13 of them experts and the rest victims.

Al Jazeera’s Barnaby Phillips, reporting from The Hague, said the trial will take weeks – if not months – and that it is being criticised by some human rights groups for focusing narrowly only on crimes during one period.

“He was very much at large for many more years. He only handed himself to the American Embassy in neighbouring Rwanda in 2013. But ICC said it simply didn’t have the resources to carry out an investigation over such a large period,” Phillips reported.

Many of the witnesses were being flown from the DRC to give their testimonies, Phillips said.

Three of the victims to take the stand will be former child soldiers in Ntaganda’s Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC), their lawyers said.

Ntaganda’s lawyer Stephane Bourgon said his client would seek to prove his innocence before the ICC’s judges.

Ntaganda is “in good shape, he’s doing fine, he is looking forward to having a chance to present his case”, Bourgon told reporters.

The Rwandan-born Ntaganda, nicknamed “The Terminator” for his reputation as a brutal commander, is accused over his role in attacks on a number of Ituri towns over a year starting in September 2002.

One town that witnessed a massacre during that period was Kiwanja, where at least 150 people were killed in 24 hours.

Residents blamed Ntaganda for the violence and the scars still run deep in the eastern town.

“We are sure what happened here was under the control of Bosco Ntaganda and we want the law to take its course,” Jean Claude Bambaze, a human rights campaigner, told Al Jazeera.

Ntaganda, 41, was once one of the most-wanted fugitives in Africa’s Great Lakes region until he unexpectedly walked into the US embassy in the Rwandan capital Kigali in March 2013 and asked to be sent to The Hague.

Ntaganda joined government forces in 2009, was promoted to the rank of general and commander up to 50,000 soldiers, many of them former rebels who remained loyal to him.

He enjoyed a lavish lifestyle in Goma despite an international warrant for his arrest.

He defected in April 2012 and went into hiding, taking with him at least 600 heavily armed soldiers.

Many believe he was the leader of the M23 rebel group which briefly seized Goma in 2013. The group’s leadership has always denied the allegation.

Born in 1973, Ntaganda is among a dozen Africans who have been in the custody of the ICC, a court criticised for apparently only targeting leaders from that continent. His trial is set to be complex and last several months.

Source: Al Jazeera

DR Congo – Ntaganda trial to start at ICC


Rwandan-born Congolese warlord Bosco Ntaganda is seen during his first appearance before judges of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, 26 March 2013
Image captionBosco Ntaganda faces 13 counts of war crimes and five charges of crimes against humanity

Former Congolese rebel leader Bosco Ntaganda is due to go on trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague for war crimes.

He denies all 18 charges which include murder, rape and the recruitment of child soldiers.

More than 2,000 victims have been cleared to take part in the trial, including former child soldiers who will be called as witnesses.

Gen Ntaganda fought for different rebel groups as well as the Congolese army.

The 41-year-old is accused of killing at least 800 civilians during separate attacks on a number of villages between 2002 and 2003.

He is also accused of raping girl soldiers and keeping them as sex slaves.

File photo of Bosco Ntaganda in eastern DR Congo, 11 January 2009
Image captionGen Ntaganda is accused of recruiting child soldiers

In 2013, he handed himself in at the US embassy in the Rwandan capital, Kigali.

He had evaded capture for seven years after the ICC first issued warrants for his arrest.

Bosco Ntaganda was part of the Union of Congolese Patriots rebel group, led by Thomas Lubanga who in 2014 became the only person convicted by the ICC.

Gen Ntaganda was one of the leaders of the M23 rebel movement, which had fought government troops until signing a peace deal in 2013.

Eastern DR Congo has suffered two decades of violence linked to ethnic rivalries and competition for the control of the area’s rich mineral resources.

The unrest began when some of the ethnic Hutu militants accused of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda fled into DR Congo.

Who is Bosco Ntaganda?

  • Born in 1973 in Rwanda
  • Fled to DR Congo as a teenager after attacks on fellow ethnic Tutsis
  • At 17, he begins his fighting days – alternating between being a rebel and a soldier, in both Rwanda and DR Congo
  • In 2006, indicted by the ICC for allegedly recruiting child soldiers in Ituri
  • In 2009, he is integrated into the Congolese national army and made a general
  • In 2012, he defects from the army, sparking a new rebellion which forces 800,000 from their homes
  • In March 2013, hands himself in to US embassy in Kigali