Congo Watch: March 2009

Saturday, March 28, 2009

ICC: Trial of two DR Congo militia leaders, Germain Katanga and Mathieu Ngudjolom, to open Sept 24

Note that the FPRI was a militia formed towards the end of 2002, with backing from Uganda, according to the ICC charge sheet.  Ituri is a mineral-rich district of DR Congo that borders Uganda and Sudan.

Trial of two DR Congo militia leaders to open Sept 24: ICC
Friday, 28 March 2009 report by AFP:
THE HAGUE — The trial of Germain Katanga and Mathieu Ngudjolo, two former militia leaders from the Democratic Republic of Congo, will begin on September 24, the International Criminal Court announced Friday.

Both men are charged with having committed war crimes, including using child soldiers and attacking civilians, and crimes against humanity, including murder rape and sexual slavery.

Katanga, 30, also known as "Simba," or lion, is accused of having led the Patriotic Resistance Front in Ituri (FRPI), which operated in the east of the country.

The FPRI was a militia formed towards the end of 2002, with backing from Uganda, according to the ICC charge sheet.

Its members, who belonged to the Lendu and Ngiti ethnic groups, are suspected of having carried out massacres against the Hema ethnic group.

Ngudjolo, 37, is accused of having been the leader of the Nationalist Integrationist Front (FNI), which operated in the same district. The FNI was made up of Lendu fighters.

The charges against both men arise out of a joint attack on the village of Bororo, in Ituri on February 24, 2003, by the two groups they are alleged to have led.

A pre-trial chamber of the court decided earlier this month to join the two cases.

Ituri is a mineral-rich district of DR Congo that borders Uganda and Sudan with a population of between 3.5 and 5.5 million people made up of 18 different ethnic groups.

Friday, March 27, 2009

FDLR and PARECO have surrounded the village of Pinga, some 80 km north-east of Walikale in North Kivu

The various rebel attacks in North Kivu have since last year displaced over 250,000 people, while in Orientale region, nearly 190,000 have been displaced in the last six months, and some 16,000 refugees have fled to South Sudan.

Friday, 27 March 2009, report by UNHCR:
Displacement in the north-eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo
UNHCR is seriously concerned about the plight of thousands of civilians who have fled their homes to escape daily attacks by the many armed groups operating in north-eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

Heavily armed militia from the so called Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and an allied militia group, PARECO, have surrounded the village of Pinga, some 80 km north-east of Walikale in North Kivu. A joint UN assessment team, including UNHCR, which visited the area this week, has reported that FDLR and PARECO forces were sighted some 2 km on the south, west and north-west edges of Pinga, causing panic among its 8,500 population, including some 2,000 previously internally displaced persons.

According to local residents the armed groups have repeatedly raided villages in and around Pinga, robbing villagers of their meagre resources – basically food and money.

Meanwhile, further to the east, more than 20,000 people have been driven out Kirumba, Kayna and Kanyabonga villages in the Rutshuru district of North Kivu, by various armed groups over the past several weeks. The displaced fled into the forest after their homes were plundered and torched.

In the far north-eastern area of Haut Uele in Orientale province, a UNHCR convoy with 22 tonnes of much needed assistance destined for displaced people in Faradje was forced to turn back following reports of fresh Lords Resistance Army (LRA) attacks. The convoy, which had reached Kitambala, was forced to turn back to Aru on the DRC-Uganda border yesterday because of reported LRA attacks this week in Tadu, Munia and Sururu, some 80 km south of Faradje. The situation in Faradje is said to be tense and residents have begun to flee the town.

Further LRA attacks have also been reported in Amadi and Banda in the neighbouring district of Bas Uele. Local authorities say there is a heavy concentration of internally displaced people in the town of Dingila, where they have already registered some 2,800 displaced persons. The majority of the displaced are staying with host families, but others have sought refuge in the town's churches. Another 11,000 who left Banda have fled to Dakwa, 85 km from Banda, and some 6,000 to Amadi.

The various rebel attacks in North Kivu have since last year displaced over 250,000 people, while in Orientale region, nearly 190,000 have been displaced in the last six months, and some 16,000 refugees have fled to South Sudan.

France seeks to exploit Africa - DR Congo has major uranium reserves

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has continued his two-day African tour by visiting the neighbouring Republic of Congo, previously a French colony. He is expected in uranium-rich Niger on Friday.

Mr Sarkozy is joined by ministers and other executives from French firms - including France Telecom, cement maker Lafarge and construction group Vinci - chasing contracts in various sectors.

March 27, 2009 report from BBC News:
Sarkozy outlines Congo peace plan
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has suggested using the mineral wealth of the Democratic Republic of Congo to help bring peace to central Africa.

Addressing parliament in Kinshasa, he also praised Congolese President Joseph Kabila's joint operation with Rwanda against rebels earlier this year.

The region has been plagued by rival militias for more than a decade.

He said the region's people could become rich by working together or continue to fight and remain poor.

French nuclear giant Areva's chief executive has taken advantage of the visit to sign a deal to exploit uranium in DR Congo.

Sarkozy is forgetting that Congo has been sharing its wealth with the world for such a long time - what has it got in return?

Congo responds to Sarkozy

No further details were released but DR Congo has major uranium reserves and was the source of some of the raw material for the atomic bombs the US dropped on Japan in World War II.

Mr Sarkozy has continued his two-day African tour by visiting the neighbouring Republic of Congo, previously a French colony.
He is expected in uranium-rich Niger on Friday.

Mr Sarkozy is joined by ministers and other executives from French firms - including France Telecom, cement maker Lafarge and construction group Vinci - chasing contracts in various sectors.

Sarkozy's Africa policy shift

Addressing Kinshasa's national assembly in the first visit by a French president to the former Belgian colony in a quarter of a century, Mr Sarkozy suggested Kinshasa and its Great Lakes neighbours work together for their mutual benefit.

"The peoples of central Africa will not be changing their address.

"If they can develop good neighbourly relations, the peoples of central Africa will have a rich and peaceful life. If it's a case of might is right, the peoples of central Africa will stay poor and unhappy," he said.

He gained a round of applause from MPs for saying that Congolese sovereignty would not be violated.

Uproar

Preparations for the visit were overshadowed by comments Mr Sarkozy made in January when he suggested DR Congo share its mineral wealth with Rwanda as a way to end violence around the main eastern city of Goma.

The idea triggered uproar with the Congolese media accusing Paris of seeking a "Balkanisation" of the country and trying to use DR Congo's mineral wealth to help mend its ties with Rwanda.

Paris and Kigali have been at loggerheads for years over who is to blame for Rwanda's 1994 genocide, in which some 800,000 people were slaughtered.

Kinshasa resident Jean Pierre Mafuta told the BBC News website:

"What Mr Sarkozy is forgetting, is that DR Congo had been sharing its wealth, its people and its land with the world for such a long time - what has the Congo got in return?"

Ahead of the visit, aides in Mr Sarkozy's office said: "There is no French peace plan, no plan to share riches, it is not the right moment," reported AFP.

On Thursday Mr Sarkozy also praised as "brave" the Congolese leader's decision to invite Rwandan troops into his country in January for a five-week joint operation against rebel militias plaguing the neighbours' border.

The move was politically sensitive as Rwanda has twice invaded the country in recent years and many Congolese distrusted the Kigali forces' presence.

The aim of the military campaign was to flush out rebel forces each government has accused the other of backing and which have been at the heart of the region's conflicts since Rwanda's genocide.

The DR Congo parliament's speaker was forced to quit on Wednesday after criticising Mr Kabila's decision to let in the Rwandan troops.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Central African Republic catches 100 "fake" rebels

Central African Republic catches 100 "fake" rebels
From Reuters by Paul-Marin Ngoupana Wed Mar 11, 2009
DESSIKOU, Central African Republic, March 11 (Reuters) - Some 100 youths were caught posing as rebels in Central African Republic, hoping for cash and other benefits offered to fighters demobilising under a peace process, the government said.

The country, one of the poorest in the world despite its vast natural resources, is trying to implement a shaky peace process after years of civil conflicts and military coups.

"The group of 100 youths told us at the beginning of our discussions that some were from the APRD and some from the UFDR," Communications Minister Cyriaque Gonda told Reuters on Tuesday, referring to two of the country's rebel groups.

"At the end they admitted they had come from Bangui posing as ex-rebels to profit from the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration process which will be starting soon," Gonda said at a disarmament camp in Dessikou where the men were caught, 240 km (150 miles) northeast of the capital Bangui.

Nineteen-year-old Bonaventure Gomtoua, one of those exposed as a fraud, told Reuters: "We were pushed to do this because in Bangui we are faced with unemployment and poverty."

The peace process between the country's government and a number of rebel groups began last year, but progress has been slow.

One rebel group, the Democratic Forces for the Central African People (FDPC) rejected the government's peace deal last month and announced a new rebel alliance, saying the government had broken a number of its promises to the group.

On Tuesday, 350 members of the FDPC protested at Camp Leclerc, a military camp being used for disarmament in Bouar, 375 km (235 miles) northwest of Bangui, over what they said was unfair treatment by the government.

A group of nearly 200 of them threatened to march on Bangui, but agreed to return to Camp Leclerc after authorities agreed to give them 16,000 CFA each ($31) and 5 million CFA francs ($9,750) a month to feed the group, an FDPC official said.

A senior advisor to President Francois Bozize said the peace process was on track.

"For now, the essentials are done. We can be sure that the demobilisation and reintegration campaign will start in two to three months," Dieudonne Stanislas Mbango told Reuters.

Regional instability and wars in neighbouring Chad, Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo have worsened internal conflicts in the landlocked former French colony, which has attracted some foreign investment in its rich mineral reserves.

French state-controlled nuclear energy group Areva (CEPFi.PA) is due to start mining uranium in Central African Republic in 2010.

London-listed Gem Diamonds (GEMD.L) has been prospecting for alluvial diamonds in some of the country's rivers, but scaled back its presence this year after disappointing early result
s. (Writing by Joseph Penney; editing by Alistair Thomson)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Ugandan LRA rebel commander "Lt. Col" Okello Yape killed in southwest of Ri-Kwangba, DR Congo

Uganda's top rebel commander killed in DR Congo
March 11, 2009 KAMPALA, March 10 (Xinhua) --
A senior commander of Uganda's notorious rebel group, the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), has been killed during the on-going joint military operation to wipe out the rebel group holed up in northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

"Lt. Col" Okello Yape, whose role in the LRA is not yet clear, was killed in southwest of Ri-Kwangba, a remote border area in southern Sudan, according to a statement of the Uganda People's Defense Force (UPDF) on Tuesday.

The UPDF has called Yape's death as "another blow to the LRA" following the recent capture of "Col." Thomas Kwoyello, a senior rebel commander alleged ranking 4th in the rebel group.

Kwoyello, who was shot in the stomach and captured last week during the operations in southeast of Ri-Kwangba, has been transferred here for treatment.

Six more LRA fighters were killed during the weekend skirmish while three abductees were freed, the statement said.

The joint military operation was launched mid-December last year by UPDF with forces from DRC and southern Sudan to flush out the LRA after its leader, Joseph Kony repeatedly refused to sign an already negotiated peace agreement.

The offensive has, however, attracted some criticism due to its failure to prevent retaliatory attacks on civilians by the rebel group. UN and humanitarian agencies estimate that the rebel group has killed some 900 civilians since late last year.

Uganda President Yoweri Museveni, who is paying a working visit to the U.K. early this week, was quoted by a State House statement on Monday saying that the rebel leadership "has a chance to take advantage of amnesty if he stops fighting."

The rebel leadership, including Kony and two of his top commanders, are wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The LRA's two decade long insurgency has left tens of thousands of people killed and some two million uprooted in northern Uganda before it spilt into neighboring southern Sudan and DRC.

Editor: Yan

Friday, March 06, 2009

ICC seeks new charges for Congo warlord Jean-Pierre Bemba

March 6, 2009 THE HAGUE (AFP) —
ICC seeks new charges for Congo warlord
International Criminal Court judges asked prosecutors Thursday to refile charges against ex-DR Congo vice-president Jean-Pierre Bemba so he can be tried for war crimes as a military, rather than political commander.

The court has "decided to adjourn (January's) confirmation of charges hearing... and to ask the prosecutor to consider submitting an amended document," a statement on the court's website said.

"In the decision of 4 March 2009, the Chamber indicates that the evidence submitted by the prosecutor appears to establish that a different crime, within the jurisdiction of the court, was committed."

The judges consider that the facts of the case "may amount to a different type of responsibility, namely the criminal liability as a commander or superior."

Lawyers for Bemba said in the January hearing that members of his militia group accused of atrocities in the Central African Republic (CAR) were not under his command.

They argued before the court in The Hague that the men, deployed in 2002 to help put down a coup, were under the command of then-CAR president Ange Felix Patasse.

The court has given the defence until 24 April 2009 to respond, with an opportunity for alleged victims to make submissions first.

Bemba -- a former DR Congo vice-president and presidential election loser in 2006 -- held a dual role as president and commander-in-chief of his Movement for the Liberation of Congo.

The former role may not allow the prosecution sufficient leeway to establish criminal responsibility.

The MLC entered the Central African Republic in an unsuccessful bid to stave off a coup against Patasse.

ICC prosecutors allege they committed war crimes and crimes against humanity including rape, torture and murder while on Central African territory.

The 46-year-old Bemba, who fled DR Congo in April 2007, was arrested on 24 May 2008 by Belgian authorities and transferred to the ICC on 3 July.

The prosecution is seeking to hold Bemba criminally responsible for five counts of war crimes and three counts of crimes against humanity including rape, torture and murder, committed on the territory of Central African Republic from October 2002 to March 2003.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

David Nyekorach Matsanga, LRA Chief Peace Negotiator, told VOA the news of Kwoyelo’s capture could be a hoax

Uganda's LRA Rebel Spokesman Skeptical of Top Rebel Commander's Capture - From Voice of America by James Butty Washington, DC 05 March 2009:
A spokesman for the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels is denying Ugandan government announcement that it has captured a top LRA commander in a joint operations with the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan.

A Ugandan army spokesman says troops captured Thomas Kwoyelo, who is believed to be fourth-in-command of the rebel group Tuesday in the remote forests in northeastern Congo.

David Nyekorach Matsanga, LRA Chief Peace Negotiator, told VOA the news of Kwoyelo’s capture could be a hoax.

“Most of the time when the Ugandan government talks about capturing commanders or people surrendering it becomes a hoax. If they have said they have Kwoyelo with them, they should always bring Kwoyelo. We know who he is, we know what he looks like, and most people have doubted the picture they have put on TV is Kwoyelo’s picture,” he said.

The caption of a picture on a Ugandan government website shows a man the caption said was Kwoyelo being assisted by Ugandan army officers as he disembarks a plane on arrival at Entebbe military airbase.

Still Matsanga said the picture is part of Ugandan government propaganda to prove to the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo that the joint military operation in eastern Congo is working.

“That is not the Thomas that everybody knows, and therefore we don’t think it is proper because this is a story that was brought they wanted to justify their stay in Congo by saying the operation is going on very well. Yet this operation is going on very badly,” Matsanga said.

He said military operations against the LRA will not bring peace to northern Uganda. In fact Matsanga said it would only worsen the situation.

“This is why I went to Tanzania to deliver a petition to the Secretary General of the United Nations and to all the people concerned in this conflict, Riek Machar of Sudan and Salva Kiir of Sudan that there is need for a ceasefire followed by a discussion on the ICC arrest warrant (against LRA leader Joseph Kony),” he said.

Matsanga said ICC arrest warrants against Kony and some of top commanders should be suspended to allow the LRA leader and his fighters to assembly in the Congolese border town of Rikwamba to sign the final peace agreement.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Uganda army captures LRA commander Thomas Kwoyelo in DR Congo's NE Garamba National Park

From AFP 4 March 2009 (KAMPALA)
Uganda army captures rebel commander:
Uganda's army announced Wednesday the capture of a commander of the rebel Lord's Resistance Army, the first top insurgent to be arrested in a three-month-old regional military drive against the militia.

Thomas Kwoyelo, believed to be the LRA's fourth-in-command, was seized in the Democratic Republic of Congo's northeastern Garamba National Park Tuesday, army spokesman Major Felix Kulayigye said.

"We had contact with the rebels yesterday. Thomas was injured and is now in our custody. We also have some of the fighters who were with him, while others ran away," Kulayigye told AFP.

Uganda, DR Congo and south Sudan armies launched a joint military operation against the rebels in December after elusive LRA chief Joseph Kony refused to sign a final peace deal with the Kampala government.

Kony is yet to be arrested and his fighters have killed hundreds of civilians while fleeing the onslaught.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and his Congolese counterpart Joseph Kabila are to meet Wednesday to review the operation and decide whether Ugandan troops will remain in DR Congo.

Kabila had said Ugandan troops were to leave DR Congo by the end of February, but they have yet to withdraw.

Kony's rebels are accused of having raped and mutilated civilians, forcibly enlisting child soldiers and of massacring thousands during two decades of conflict.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

DRC, Ugandan leaders to meet over joint operation against rebels

From African Press Agency 3 March 2009:
DRC, Ugandan leaders to meet over joint operation against rebels
APA Kampala (Uganda) Ugandan leader Yoweri Museveni and his DR Congo counterpart Joseph Kabila are set to meet by the end of this week to discuss issues related to the ‘Operation Lightning Thunder’ which was aimed at flushing out the illusive rebels of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) under the command of General Joseph Kony.

The two leaders will decide whether the Ugandan troops should continue pursuing the LRA within their hide out in the Garamba national park in Congolese territory or call off the operation.

The spokesman of the Ugandan military Major Felix Kulaigye confirmed on Tuesday that officers from the DRC and Uganda have been discussing the future of the joint armed operation they began three months ago against the rebels responsible for widespread atrocities inside Congo and Uganda.

The Congolese government is under pressure from nationalist politicians to end the joint operation. Kulaigye indicated that the two presidents are to meet this week to decide on the issue.

About 4,000 Ugandan troops are since last December involved in this operation codenamed ‘Lightning Thunder’ with a similar number of Congolese troops.

There are fears that the withdrawal of the Ugandan troops is likely to give room for the rebesl now in disarray to regroup, a challenge the two presidents are expected to discuss.

However, the exact date of the two leaders’ meeting has not yet been established.