Congo Watch: Congo, Rwanda forces kill 40 Hutu rebels in air raids

Friday, February 13, 2009

Congo, Rwanda forces kill 40 Hutu rebels in air raids

From Bloomberg
Congo, Rwanda Forces Kill 40 Hutu Rebels in Air Raids (Update2)
By Franz Wild, February 13, 2009:
Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwandan military forces said they killed more than 40 Hutu rebels during air attacks.

The joint force yesterday staged an air raid on a group of commanders of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, or FDLR, who were meeting in Kashebere, in the Masisi area of Congo’s eastern North Kivu province, according to a statement signed by operations chief Lieutenant-General John Numbi.

Congolese and Rwandan forces are fighting together to oust the rebels from eastern Congo, a region from which they have staged attacks against Rwanda. The coalition “just moved into higher speed by using air support to increase pressure on” the FDLR, according to the statement.

About 4,000 Rwandan soldiers on Jan. 20 crossed into Congo’s North Kivu province to launch the joint mission to forcibly disarm the FDLR. The group’s leaders sought refuge in Congo’s forests after taking part in the killing of 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in the Rwanda genocide in 1994.

Several attempts to eradicate the Hutu rebels have triggered wars in the region in which more than 5 million people have died since 1998, mostly due to war-related hunger and disease.

FDLR Killings

In response to the offensive, the FDLR has “brutally slaughtered” about 100 civilians and raped more than a dozen women, including a nine-year-old girl, New York-based Human Rights Watch said today in an e-mailed statement. Others were stopped from leaving their villages, it said.

“The FDLR have a very ugly past, but we haven’t seen this level of violence in years,” Anneke Van Woudenberg, senior Africa researcher for Human Rights Watch, said in the statement. “We’ve documented many abuses by FDLR forces, but these are killings of ghastly proportions.”

Ground forces destroyed a “heavily defended” FDLR division headquarters near Nyabiondo, about 70 kilometers (44 miles) northwest of Goma, the capital of North Kivu, according to the statement by the joint operations force.

“Here too the death toll is very heavy,” it said. “The survivors threw the bodies of their companions in the river.”

The FDLR accuses civilians who live near them of betraying its fighters, said Jerome Monobo, a civil society leader in Nyabiondo.

“The people are totally traumatized, they don’t know what to do,” Monobo said today on the phone from Nyabiondo. “They’re too scared to get food in the fields.”

FDLR spokesman Laforge Fis had two mobile phones switched off or out of network coverage when Bloomberg News called seeking comment.

Air Strikes

The air strikes came in response to FDLR fighters firing on a helicopter from the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Congo, Monuc, which was in the area to encourage rebels to disarm and return to Rwanda, according to the statement.

Monuc confirmed its helicopter had been fired on. It couldn’t yet confirm the air strikes, military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Jean-Paul Dietrich said today on the phone from Kinshasa, the capital.

Congo turned on the FDLR, with which it collaborated last year, UN investigators said in a December report, in exchange for Rwanda’s arrest of rebel leader General Laurent Nkunda. Rwanda on Jan. 22 detained Nkunda, whose fighters last year defeated Congo’s army in several battles, displacing 250,000 civilians in North Kivu.

Nkunda’s military chief General Jean Bosco Ntaganda, who last month deposed Nkunda, has since agreed to integrate his forces into Congo’s army and join the FDLR hunt.

Peacekeepers

Monuc, which has 6,300 peacekeepers in North Kivu, has been unable to protect civilians because they haven’t been informed about the strikes, Human Rights Watch said.

Another rebel group in Congo, Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army, responded to attacks by Congolese and Ugandan forces on its jungle headquarters by killing more than 900 civilians in the Haut-Uele region in December and January, according to the UN.

Congo’s President Joseph Kabila on Jan. 31 said Rwanda’s troops would leave before the end of this month. Ugandan troops, who are still pursuing the LRA near the border with Sudan, are scheduled to leave tomorrow, he said.

Congo’s 85th army brigade, which is made up of former militia fighters, has left a mining zone it controlled in the western Walikale region of North Kivu to be integrated with other forces, army spokesman Captain Olivier Hamuli said today by phone from Goma.

The news was welcomed by tin miner Kivu Resources Ltd., which in October suspended plans to develop its Mpama Bisie concession, the country’s biggest, because of the insecurity the soldiers caused.

Congo, Africa’s top tin producer, ships three-quarters of its tin exports out of Goma.

“We’re hoping they will keep the military off the mine now,” Kivu Resources Managing Director in Congo Brian Christophers said by phone from Johannesburg. “If the security is correct, we’ll return, but we still have to wait and see.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Franz Wild in Johannesburg at fwild@bloomberg.net.

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