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from issue no. 12 - 2009

Congo: the fighting continues


In January 2009 the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda signed diplomatic and military agreements. It seemed the start of a period of peace, but it did not happen. And the Church in Kivu, which is denouncing crimes committed against civilians is in the crosshairs


by Davide Malacaria


“The commander of joint operations... informs the public that former general Laurent Nkunda was arrested on Thursday 22 January at 22.30, while attempting a desperate flight”. So in January 2009 was announced the end of the adventure of the last warlord who had contributed to the slaughterhouse of Kivu, the eastern zone of the Democratic Republic of Congo [Congo in the text below ed.], where the last fifteen years have seen consumed what will probably be remembered as the most tragic African genocide. What put an end to the Nkunda business were the Rwandan and the Congolese troops. After years of mutual hostility, it seemed the beginning of a period of peace. But that didn’t happen.

Refugees from the city of Kiwanja, in North-Kivu in November 2008 [© AFP/Getty Images]

Refugees from the city of Kiwanja, in North-Kivu in November 2008 [© AFP/Getty Images]

The conflict
Four and a half million casualties (but perhaps many more): that is the tragic toll of the two wars that bloodied Congo between 1996 and 2003. Wars that saw Rwanda and Uganda (and Burundi) trying to gain control of the eastern regions of the country, against the resistance at one moment of erratic Congolese troops, and at the next of the much more warlike local people, the Mai Mai, and at another of other African countries (Angola and Namibia in particular) allied with Kinshasa in the recent conflict. A war related to the better known Rwandan genocide when, in 1994, the Hutu slaughtered some 800,000 people belonging to the Tutsi ethnic minority and the so-called Hutu moderates. Two years after the massacres, the government in Kigali, controlled by Tutsis from Uganda meantime risen to power, decided to attack the perpetrators of the genocide, sheltering in eastern Congo along with a multitude of simple refugees terrified by the prospect of indiscriminate revenge.
Then, after years of massacres, looting and mass rapes in 2003 came the longed-for peace. But in the east, in Ituri and Kivu, the struggle continued under a variety of warlords linked to neighboring countries, particularly Rwanda and Uganda. The last of these, the ferocious Laurent Nkunda (actually Nkundabatware, a Rwandan surname, shortened to appear Congolese) who was, as said, arrested in January 2009. It seemed the prelude to a period of calm, since for the first time after years of hostility, Rwanda, Uganda and Congo signed peace and military cooperation agreements. In particular Rwanda was allowed to pursue on Congolese territory the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, the FDLR, accused of hosting in its ranks the perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide (the so-called Interahamwe) and, similarly, Uganda was allowed to pursue the rebels of the Lord’s Resistance Army, the LRA. But the massacre of civilians still continues. And with it the exodus of tens of thousands of people fleeing the violence.
In Kivu, in fact, various armed bands are rampaging, financed by the smuggling of precious minerals, first and foremost the FDLR, the most powerful and organized; and then the others: the Rally for Unity and Democracy (RUD-Urunana), some formations of the Mai Mai, the Federalist Republican Forces (FRF), some elements belonging to the National Forces of Liberation (FNL), which kill while reciting biblical psalms, the Alliance of Patriots for a free and sovereign Congo (APCLS), etc. “In truth the same people and the same set of interests are behind all these groups”, says Monsignor Melchisedec Sikuli Paluku, Bishop of Butembo-Beni, diocese of North Kivu, on his passage through Italy. “We believe that there is a plan behind the conflicts bloodying Congo, an international plan which aims to cut off the East, the richest area of the country, from the rest of the country. A design that materializes in various ways, one of which is plain to everyone’s eyes: to make the territory ungovernable, make it a no man’s land, outside the control of local and national authorities so as to plunder the natural resources. A further step is to turn Kivu into an autonomous province, in the interests of the mining companies and the Western multinationals: the region, in fact, would come into the orbit of the neighboring states, namely Rwanda and Uganda. All these conflicts, these massacres, this terrorism aim at weakening the local population, wearing down their will, so that they view the prospect as a kind of liberation. A strategy that the Congolese Bishops’ Conference has defined in one word: Balkanization”.
The looting of Kivu mines goes on in systematic fashion. The armed gangs oversee and monitor the digging in the areas they control. The minerals are then smuggled into neighboring countries, where they become “clean” and thus “buyable” by the big multinationals, especially Western ones.
To complicate things, the wretched condition of the Congolese army makes it incapable of putting an end to the raids, when not complicit with the armed movements. The problem is that during the various peace processes the Congolese troops have incorporated the militias of various warlords. In particular, going by the latest UN report analyzing the regional situation, the merger of CNDP (National Congress for the Defense of the People) militants, formerly led by Nkunda has proved particularly tragic. Now many of the leaders of CNDP are in positions of command in the regular army. “The report details how the various armed movements, notably the FDLR, are supplied with weapons by the Congolese army. In particular, it highlights the links between that movement and officers formerly belonging to the CNDP. A fact that raises questions about the true relationship between supposed opposing forces...”, comments Father Loris Cattani, a member of Peace Network for Congo, an association grouping various missionary orders working in the central African country. “In reality,” Father Cattani continues, “what has gone on in Kivu is very simple in its complexity: what the CNDP was unable to do with the war unleashed by Nkunda it has been able to do thanks to the peace and integration into the Congolese army. With one difference: at first it controlled only North Kivu, now it has extended its influence into South-Kivu... For the moment an apparent peace exists, broken by incidents of violence that seem sporadic, but I fear the worst. In particular, the CNDP is pressing for some of its members to be taken into the central government: once there they’ll work for a referendum on self-determination for Kivu, to make it an autonomous region. The problem is that local populations, made up of a multiplicity of ethnic groups, won’t accept being ruled by a single one, the Tutsi, and there’ll be war... it’s something the international community seems to underestimate.” Balkanization, in fact.

Monsignor François Xavier Maroy Rusengo, Archbishop of Bukavu [© Romano Siciliani]

Monsignor François Xavier Maroy Rusengo, Archbishop of Bukavu [© Romano Siciliani]

The Church in the crosshairs
On the eve of the opening of the Synod for Africa, on 3 October 2009, the presbytery of Ciherano was attacked and looted. A priest and a seminarian were taken prisoner and released after payment of a ransom. The Archbishop of Bukavu, Monsignor François Xavier Maroy Rusengo, was forced to rush back home. Not least because the day after the school complex in Nyangezi, run by the Marist Brothers, was attacked and ransacked. But the troubles of the Church of Bukavu flared up in December. On the 6th of that month Don Daniel Cizimya was assassinated in the presbytery of Kabare. The next day the monastery of Murhesa was attacked and Sister Dénise Kahambu murdered. The crimes are analyzed by Don Richard Mugaruka, a diocesan priest who teaches at the University of Kinshasa, in a document, intended for the crisis committee of the Archdiocese of Bukavu, with the eloquent title: The causes of terrorism against the Archdiocese of Bukavu. In it he says that the repetition of the acts of violence leaves no doubt as to their not being accidental, and even less casual. He adds: “It is important to note that, in most cases, these repeated crimes, directed against the clergy and religious of the Archdiocese of Bukavu have been committed, according to witnesses, by armed men in military uniform”.
According to the paper, the causes of this strategy of terror are to be sought primarily in the fact that “the priests and religious are troublesome witnesses of the thefts, massacres, massive violations of human rights perpetrated in the region since 1996”. Troublesome even today, continues Don Mugaruka, because those attacking the local church, always the voice of the oppressed, are aiming to “break popular resistance to Rwandan hegemony”.
In short, the Church is in the firing line. The fact is that priests and nuns in the Congo are not being killed in the name of Islamic fundamentalism, but of progress and the Western multinationals. Perhaps that is why it is not news.
This climate of intimidation and threats has not spared even the Bishop of Butembo-Beni. Monsignor Sikuli Paluku has often been forced to change his resting place. But when asked about personal threats he minimizes and smiles like a child (unless you become like little children...). Monsignor does not want to talk about it. I insist. He yields: “The Church reasons in other terms, trusting in Divine Providence”. And again that smile, which is both understanding of things and abandonment. “I said to a guy who talked to me about these threats: And if, after me, comes a bishop tougher than me in denouncing the crimes against the people?”

The funeral of Monsignor Emmanuel Kataliko

The funeral of Monsignor Emmanuel Kataliko

Disinformation
Where troublesome people can’t be eliminated physically, there’s always the weapon of disinformation. According to Father Mugaruka’s paper there is an ongoing campaign to criminalize all the local political and religious leaders as anti-Tutsi racists “so as to decapitate the popular resistance of the Kivu Congolese” to the hegemonic policy of Kigali. A ruse capable, according to the priest, of “poisoning” the diplomatic representation and public opinion in the West. So much so that at present “the Archdiocese of Bukavu is excluded from financial aid from European Union countries”.
And as for that the practice of defamation has been used widely in this conflict in the past. The story of Archbishop Emmanuel Kataliko is exemplary. He took over the leadership of the Archdiocese of Bukavu from Monsignor Christophe Munzihirwa who, having understood and reported since the late ’nineties, the threat of a balkanization of the region, was killed on the first day of the war by the pro-Rwandan militias. Kataliko also raised his voice to get a hearing over the noise of weapons and draw international attention to the crimes that were being perpetrated in Congo. But he was forced into exile after a sophisticated piece of spin. Having written that the Church would remain at the side of “all the oppressed, if necessary to shedding its blood”, he was accused of incitement to genocide and forced into exile, which ended just a week before his sudden death.
The missionaries who work in those parts, always close to the oppressed, recently became victims of this practice too. In late November, a week before the killing of the priest and nun of the Archdiocese of Bukavu, Italian newspapers leaked part of the latest UN report. Ignoring far more dramatic and significant themes, some deep throat divulged the contents of some pages of the report accusing some Catholic Spanish NGOs and some Italian missionaries of maintaining relations with the rebels. In particular two Xaverians ended up on the rack: Father Pier Giorgio Lanaro, who works in Kasongo, and Father Franco Bordignon, who has been actively working over past decades for the respect of human rights in the region. Contacted by telephone, the head of the Xaverians in Congo categorically denied that the aid sent by Father Lanaro had in any way served to arm the rebels. “Besides, if you read the report where it analyzes the events relating to our brother, it never mentions weapons, either in the document or its attachments. The problem is that the missionaries working in these areas, like Father Lanaro, are dealing with situations of extreme need and it’s often difficult in such complicated circumstances, where gang members accompanied by relatives blend in with the exhausted local population, to work out the ways and means most suitable to help”. The official reply of the Xaverian Congregation in a press release was more detailed and dismantled point by point the accusations. In particular, the Xaverians point out, Father Lanaro was the victim of a strange character who passed himself off as a priest and embroiled him in a mechanism perversely designed to fabricate evidence that would compromise him. The missionaries also make clear that the bank in Bukavu and the account, through which funds are alleged to have passed to the FDLR, simply do not exist. Father Lanaro is also accused of making telephone calls to Ignace Murwanashyaka, exiled president (in Germany) of the FDLR, conversations, the Xaverians report explains, that were instead designed to glean information about certain atrocities committed in his territory. Moreover, even the figure given in the report is laughable: the funding in question would be about 2,000 euros, used, it is specified, to buy tents. Father Bordignon, then, is dragged in as bursar of the Xaverians in the area: he cannot have not known... In short, a poisoned meatball tossed to the UN experts.
There have also been voices, not only ecclesial, raised in Spain, backing the Spanish NGOs that have ended up in the mincer. Father Cattani limits himself to pointing out that the NGOs in question were promoting a campaign to shed light on the murder of some compatriots. And that the Spanish judiciary, not least because of this pressure, opened an investigation that appears to have reached the same conclusions arrived at by a similar investigation by the French judiciary, which in the past issued an arrest warrant for the head of protocol of Rwandan President Paul Kagame.

Laurent Nkunda [© AFP/Getty Images]

Laurent Nkunda [© AFP/Getty Images]

International interests
The report raises other concerns, which may be explained by the difficulties of conducting investigations in such a difficult context. First, in the section on arms trafficking it limits itself to investigate the supply coming from the regular Congolese army. Yet, in another section, it describes the network of relationships that the various armed bands enjoy in neighboring countries, involved in the trade in precious minerals and the recruitment of new members. Is it possible that not even one gun is provided by these backers? And again, the role of Rwanda in the conflict is minimized, in the face of many documents that prove the contrary. There is among other things a significant mention of this role in the report which notes that Nkunda is keeping in touch with his CNDP comrades and presiding over military briefings from his Rwandan prison. And then there is the matter of coltan (used in computer and telephone components), perhaps the most valuable material to be found in Kivu (with the richest reserves in the world). Mostly smuggled through Rwanda, it is hardly ever mentioned, while the trafficking of other minerals passing through other neighboring states is investigated. “Some of these aspects have been detailed in previous UN reports and perhaps the study group did not want to go back to it”, shrugs Father Cattani. “I think this report has some obvious merits. First and foremost that of reporting what many observers have denounced for some time: the joint military operations designed to dismantle armed gangs have done nothing if not bring further grief and suffering to the population. Furthermore the great influence that former members of the CNDP exercise in the Congolese army and relations between former Nkundans and the armed factions are very well documented. Factors which the international community should take into account. However a small measure would be enough to eliminate the sources of financing of the armed gangs: real traceability of the precious minerals coming from Congo”.
The truth is that a great many interests are involved. “This climate that is neither peace nor war”, Don Mugaruka’s analysis says, “and that continues in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, promotes the illegal exploitation of natural and strategic resources, with which that part of the country overflows, by State and non-State, national and international mafia networks, that seek to encourage the war and which have their transit bases in neighboring countries, especially Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi itself. The various reports of the UN experts have clearly identified these mafia networks that are still active, thanks to the complicity of the neighboring countries and others, Western and Asian, explicitly identified and known”.
Powerful interests, complex situation. Symptomatic of how complicated things are in Congo is what happened in late November. Ignace Murwanashyaka, president of the FDLR, was arrested by German judiciary on very heavy charges. A measure that appeared to promote peace and dialogue. And yet, according to well informed Congolese civilian sources, perhaps the exact opposite is true: since April last year Murwanashyaka was engaged in humanitarian negotiations, aimed at alleviating the plight of civilians trapped in rebel areas. In contrast, many former CNDP members, first of all Nkunda’s former Chief of Staff accused of unspeakable crimes, continue to be entrusted with the task of protecting the Congolese people...
A very tangled skein that of Congo. And yet the international community must try to untangle it. Or the situation, already tragic, may plunge into the abyss of a new genocide. Those who would be responsible are already named in the UN document.


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