Congo Watch: July 2009

Friday, July 24, 2009

Clerics criticise Chissano’s stand on LRA rebels

From Daily Monitor Friday, July 24, 2009:
Clerics criticise Chissano’s stand on LRA rebels
By PAUL AMORU & JAMES ERIKU
(Gulu) - A statement by Mr Joachim Chissano, the outgoing UN Secretary General’s envoy for the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) affected areas, recommending that both the peaceful and military option be pursued to end the conflict in northern Uganda has received round condemnation from a local religious group.

The Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative (ARLPI) yesterday released a press statement signed by its chairperson, Arch Bishop John Baptist Odama and his vice Alhajji Musa Khelil, saying the military option still being recommended by Mr Chissano failed to bring peace for over two decades.

“We respect the final recommendations which Mr Chissano presented to the Security Council however, as religious leaders, we always stand upon the principles of non-violence and dialogue to resolve conflicts,” ARLPI said in the statement.

The former Mozambique President briefed the UN Security Council on his final observations and recommendations regarding the state of the peace process between the government of Uganda and the LRA on July 15.

In the statement, the members said, while they appreciate the multiple consultations Chissano and his team conducted throughout the region, they do not want the region to recede to another war.
“We do not have the confidence that any military action will bring security to the region but instead will only further destabilise the relative calm which we are experiencing,” the statement adds.

The clerics urged all the stakeholders to put more efforts on building trust and confidence between the parties so that dialogue can continue to lead to the final signing of the peace agreement.

They further cautioned that military action could put in danger the lives of innocent civilians abducted by the LRA in Uganda, Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Central African Republic.

The Acholi religious Leaders Initiative has been at the fore front of pushing for peaceful resolution of the conflict in the north since its inception in the early 1990’s though the government believed that the military option was the best way of achieving peace in northern Uganda.

The Final Peace Agreement was negotiated between the government and the LRA, but the LRA’s leader Joseph Kony has repeatedly failed to sign the deal, citing indictments and arrest warrants by the International Criminal Court (ICC) as obstacles.

But the Security Council last week urged the LRA rebels to sign a peace agreement which seeks to end its decades-long conflict with the government.
(Hat tip: http://DRC.Ushahidi.com)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

RARE INTERVIEW with Joseph Kabila - Rebuilding the lives of DR Congo's child soldiers

For Congo’s child soldiers, brutalised and forced to kill, rehabilitation is a long journey. Yet in war-ravaged eastern Congo one transitional centre is slowly helping them rebuild their lives. Mary Riddell sees it at work, and talks to Congo’s president, Joseph Kabila.



Rebuilding the lives of Congo's child soldiers
By Mary Riddell
Telegraph.co.uk
Published: Thursday, 16 July 2009

Gilbert did not mean to kill anyone. He did not even intend to go to war. He was 10 when a relative enlisted him in a rebel army in eastern Congo and 12 when he led a raid in which his cousin died. 'I was ordered to kill the son of the leader in my village. I was put in charge of the group, and ordered to fire as people fled. The leader was my uncle; his boy was six years old.’

If Gilbert wished, he could make excuses for what he did. He could say, truthfully, that he would have been executed if he had failed to obey orders. In the frenzy of battle, he cannot even be sure whose bullet dealt the mortal wound. But, as the appointed leader, he shoulders all blame for an atrocity whose legacy he will never escape.

Gilbert is 16 now, and we meet in the transitional centre for former child soldiers where he has lived since UN peacekeepers rescued him two years ago. He is a solemn boy with a laddered yellow T-shirt and a face turned old by sorrow.

He has not told his story before, and he volunteers the information slowly. At first, he was enrolled by his relative in the CNDP (National Congress of the Defence of the People), the militia headed by Laurent Nkunda, now being held in a Rwandan jail.

Gilbert was tortured before fleeing into the arms of Pareco, a rival rebel group and another finishing school for juvenile killers.

By some fluke, Gilbert did not die in the crossfire between the two militias. One bullet hole is gouged in his neck close to the carotid artery; a second shot hit his groin. 'I was near a hospital, and a doctor bound up the wounds. But I wasn’t allowed to stay. After a few hours I was back in the forest. There were constant battles and, by the end, I was fighting every day. Then somone brought me here.

'I cannot go back to school. I have already reached adult age. I would love to see my family but I cannot go home to my village because of what I have done. My brother came to see me once, and I asked if I could return. He said that if I did, my old friends would kill me.’ I ask if he misses anything about being a soldier, and he says, 'I hate violence. But I think sometimes of my mitraillette [sub-machine gun]. I took it everywhere with me.’

Far from being the boast of a juvenile Rambo, this seems more like the nostalgia a normal adolescent might feel for an old toy. Gilbert has no other relics of childhood to cling to and no good future to embrace. He is a child of modern Congo: his story typical of a thousand others.

Congo should be a country of plenty. It possesses vast mineral wealth and its fertile land could feed the whole of Africa, but conflict and recession have left a nation the size of western Europe close to bankruptcy. About 5.4 million people have died in the war that has ravaged Congo for the majority of Gilbert’s lifetime. About 54 per cent of children here live in poverty; one third will not finish primary school.

These are the lucky ones. More than a fifth of children die in infancy, and 45,000 under-fives perish each year from avoidable causes. At the root of disease and exploitation is the internecine conflict whose fighters – easy to snatch and simple to train – are often under 10 years old. About 31,000 children have been demobilised from Congo’s battlefields since 1999, but at least 8,000 are still being used as combatants, porters and sex slaves.

The transitional centre where Gilbert lives stands in Goma, the major town of the eastern Kivu provinces. A row of shabby single-storey buildings is divided into classrooms and dormitories, where the 311 boys sleep, six to a room, in wooden bunk beds. The five girls who stay here have a room annexed to the director’s office to give them some vestige of privacy and extra protection.

A large playground running the length of the compound is bounded by high walls and security gates designed to keep intruders out. Although the layout suggests a halfway house between a boarding school and a young offender institution, the noise of boys at play reflects the joy of freedom.

This centre, set up in 2005 by a Congolese NGO called Cajed (Concert d’Actions pour Jeunes et Enfants Défavorisés) and financially backed by Unicef, is one of several similar institutions scattered across the country. Unicef helped reintegrate 4,657 child soldiers into their communities last year at a cost of $700 per child, but lack of funding means that a backlog of 3,000 youngsters are denied the specialist help on offer here.

Unicef’s regional head, Julien Harneis, urges all armed groups to give up their child soldiers. 'The conflict is causing untold humanitarian suffering and gross violations of children’s rights,’ he says.

Few understand such attrition better than Fidele Rutabagisha, the director of the Goma centre. He and his 17 staff are used to dealing with adolescents whose bitter experiences mean that their moods seesaw between glee and anger. From the moment they are referred to his care, Rutabagisha embarks on a regime of 'peaceful rehabilitation’.

'These children are used to the field of battle,’ he says. 'They have to live together in peace. First we give them clothes, blankets and sabots [plastic clogs]. Then we divide them into “family” units. They eat together and take care of their surroundings. They learn self-respect and la vie morale.’

Discipline is key to the curriculum. The children are woken at 6am and given an hour in which to wash, tidy their rooms and speak to their 'families’. Breakfast, which they prepare themselves, is from 7am to 8am. The rest of the day is divided into hour-long slots devoted to science, maths, music, sport and languages. 'Morality’ lessons focus on community life, courtesy and self-respect.

Outside counsellors are brought in to treat children with emotional and mental health problems, and pupils are gradually allowed out to mingle with townspeople. Some transfer to a halfway house to be taught alongside 'normal’ children: Oxfam, in conjunction with Cajed, offers counselling and training in carpentry, electronics, cooking and sewing to help teenagers back into the community.

Last year the joint programme arranged 558 homecomings. For the less fortunate, the only prospect is life with a host family, or a lone existence for those nearing adulthood. For the third of children who will never go home, the joy of others is sometimes hard to bear. Rutabagisha shows me a room damaged in a recent fracas. 'Some of the boys broke windows and smashed the roof. They were angry that no families could be found for them.’

Rutabagisha’s pupils, who range from eight to 16, have experiences to chill an adult soul. Some were abducted from loving families. Others were persuaded by influential adults that life as a soldier would be well-paid and easy. Guelord, 15, was invited to a relative’s home to meet his older cousin’s new bride. 'But there was no wife. My cousin said, “Get into this uniform. Here’s a gun.” I was trapped. I thought I could stay for a few days and then escape, but they paraded me as a soldier, and I could not go back after that. I did three years.

'The children serving with Pareco were on guard all night; many were assassinated by the CNDP, our enemy. If you made one mistake, you would be killed by your superiors. I did not kill anyone, but I wounded an older boy in an attack on the CNDP. I watched my bullet go into his leg, and I was frightened I would die, like many of my friends.’

Like many of the children here, Guelord was rescued by the UN. As yet no family has been found for him, but he hopes he will one day become a street trader or, if he is lucky, a shopkeeper.

Unlike the boys in the centre, Niclette never wanted to be here. She is 17, and five months pregnant. She went to war with her husband, who is in his thirties; not to fight, but because he told her they should be together. When a child protection team brought her here, she was distraught.

'No one bothered me when I was in the army. I was by my husband’s side, and I was not prepared for this. I didn’t know we would have to separate. I want and hope to see my husband again.’

Niclette cannot go home to her parents in Masisi, 30 miles away, because she is now the property of her husband. 'He gave my father and mother three goats as a dowry when we married, which means they cannot take me back.’ So she waits here, unsure what will happen to her or her child. 'I hope my baby will have the life of my parents, who grow beans and manioc,’ she says.

The civil war that defines modern Congo traces back to the country’s independence in 1960. A military coup by Joseph Mobutu in 1965 ushered in an age of corruption fuelled by the country’s mineral wealth. In 1997 neighbouring Rwanda invaded to flush out Hutu rebels, allowing anti-Mobutu insurgents to oust the president and install Laurent Kabila in his place.

In the ensuing fracas, Rwanda and Uganda tried to unseat Kabila, who was shot dead by one of his bodyguards in 2001, leaving his son to assume the presidency. A close-run election in 2006 established Joseph Kabila as Congo’s first democratically appointed leader.

Now, he tells me in a rare interview, his country is moving away from war. But the calm he proclaims is highly provisional. Earlier this year Kabila joined forces with his enemy, the Rwandan president Paul Kagame, to attack the rebel FDLR, made up of Hutu extremists who fled to Congo after orchestrating the Rwandan genocide in 1994.

In return, Laurent Nkunda – the CNDP leader who plotted to overthrow Kabila – was arrested and placed in custody by Rwanda, which had regarded him as an ally until international backers threatened to withdraw aid as a protest against the regime’s perceived approval of Nkunda’s killing sprees. This win-win deal, heralded as a great move towards peace by both leaders, has not so far benefited Congo’s beleaguered children. A few weeks after the end of hostilities, Oxfam reported that the FDLR were regrouping and that 250,000 more people had been displaced. As violence flared again, the charity repeated the call for the world to act and, in particular, to muster the long-promised 3,000 extra troops to boost Monuc, the UN’s biggest but enfeebled peacekeeping force.

Kabila refuses to acknowledge the frailty of a 'peace’ that has been dearly bought. The CNDP has been incorporated into the national army, and Nkunda’s brutish successor, Bosco Ntaganda, appointed a general in the government army, despite being wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes, including conscripting child soldiers. 'We made a painful decision,’ Kabila tells me. 'In Congo, peace must come before justice.’

Though there is little of either, Kabila has another ace up his sleeve. A $9 billion deal will give China a slice of Congo’s vast reserves of copper, cobalt and other minerals, in return for building 2,400 miles of road, 2,000 miles of railway, 32 health centres and two universities.

While this may not stop the fighting, Kabila calculates that the planned improvements to his country will enhance his personal prestige. The new infrastructure, to be concentrated in the eastern heartland where Kabila needs the votes, could be a boon to Congo’s children. Instead, it seems possible that the deal will mean more exploitation. Youngsters not signed up as soldiers are often requisitioned as miners, labouring for a pittance to dig the minerals, such as cassiterite or tin ore that make warlords rich and fund Congo’s endless conflict. A spokesman for the charity Global Witness says, 'You see kids of seven working long days in small tunnels.’

China’s planned stake in the extractive industries has alarmed aid workers, who fear its dubious human rights record will make things worse. 'That would certainly be a concern,’ says Daniel Large, the research director of the Africa Asia Centre at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. 'Where you have weak regulation, Chinese companies are not unique in trying to get away with anything. But equally, you shouldn’t have only negative expectations. If anything, you can argue this is welcome. Congo needs investment, and it’s the first time a Chinese resource deal has had a social component, such as building schools.’

For decades the West has either violated Congo, in the case of the Belgian colonialists who inspired Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, or averted its gaze from a land whose children are sacrificed to brutality and greed. British politicians, like their European counterparts, have promised to help, but their good intentions have faded into silence.

In the playground of the rehabilitation centre, the music group is singing. 'Les enfants réclament la paix dans leur pays. Toujours la paix (the children reclaim peace in their country. Always peace).’ They have learnt to believe in a better tomorrow. But who, in Congo and the wider world, will justify their faith?

Names of the child soldiers have been changed

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Mandate of UN special envoy for LRA affected areas since 2006, ended on June 30th

Sad news from Sudan Radio Service, Thursday, 16 July 2009:
Mandate Ends for LRA Envoy
(Kampala) – Human Rights Watch has expressed concern over the suspension of the mandate of the United Nations special envoy for areas affected by the Lord's Resistance Army.

The mandate of the former Mozambican president Joaquim Chissano, who has been the UN special envoy for LRA affected areas since 2006, ended on June 30th.

Maria Burnett, Human Rights Watch's Uganda researcher spoke to Sudan Radio Service on Thursday. She described the likely impact of the UN envoy’s departure.

[Maria Burnett]: “Human Rights Watch remains extremely concerned about what the United Nations has done in terms of the protection of civilians who have been affected by the LRA in Congo, in Sudan and potentially in the Central African Republic. At the same time, we are also concerned about the warrant from the International Criminal Court and we hope that it will lead to Joseph Kony and other indicted LRA leaders facing justice for their crimes.”

She went on to say that there has been limited international action against the LRA and is calling on the international community to protect civilians from attacks by the LRA.

[Maria Burnett]: “We are looking to the Security Council and other international leaders. We have called on the United States for example to do more to protect civilians who are in the LRA affected areas where the LRA are continuing to commit abuses.”

According to Human Rights Watch reports, about 1200 civilians have been killed and over 250,000 people displaced by the LRA in the past eight months in southern Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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Friday, July 10, 2009

Institute for War & Peace Reporting - Africa: ICC Seen as Struggling to Communicate

According to the following article, the International Criminal Court (ICC) is accused of doing too little to tell people in Africa about its work.

From Institute for War & Peace Reporting (London)
Africa: ICC Seen as Struggling to Communicate
10 July 2009 (via AllAfrica)
The International Criminal Court, ICC, is under increasing pressure from lawyers, NGOs and journalists to do more to inform African communities affected by violence about the progress of investigations and trials of those accused of war crimes.

The ICC is based in The Hague in The Netherlands, thousands of kilometres away from the countries it deals with: Uganda, the Central African Republic, CAR, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC.

It is in the DRC - the country with the most indictees before the court - that the voices of discontent are the loudest.

IWPR has interviewed Congolese journalists, lawyers and civil society activists who say that people on the ground have little idea about what is going on in The Hague.
Read full story.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Uganda still pursuing LRA

Commentary by Peter Eichstaedt Thursday 09 July 2009:
Uganda still pursuing LRA
A new reports suggests that the Ugandan army may be in pursuit of units of the Lord's Resistance Army in the Central African Republic, despite its reported withdrawal from the region several months ago after the failed attempt to kill or capture the rebels fighters and their leader, Joseph Kony.

According to an article in today's Kampala weekly Observer by Edris Kiggundu, the Uganda army is hot on the heels of LRA forces led by Okot Odhiambo and Dominic Ongwen holed up in the Central African Republic, along with another LRA commander named Bok Abudema.

If the report is correct, it would fall in line with the government's suggestion that the fight is not over between Uganda and the LRA. And, it would support rumors that the contingent of advisers left behind in the DRC, supposedly to help the Congolese army finish the job, are more than that.

According to recent reports by escapees of the LRA, including one of Kony's top wives named Lily Atong, a significant LRA force retreated to the CAR. It makes sense that this would be the Odhiambo-Ongwen group, the apparent second and third top commanders of the LRA.

It would follow the tried-and-true tactic of the LRA to fragment and scatter, which allows it to operate in relatively independent groups and makes the LRA all the harder to effectively capture and/or eliminate.

Odhiambo and Ongwen were the two commanders who claimed they were willing to surrender earlier this year when the hunt for the LRA was in high gear with the Uganda's reportedly 3,000-strong force.

The two LRA commanders were in contact with an aid group that was working as an intermediary, but nothing came of it. The two commanders, along with their force of several hundred fighters, faded into the jungle.

According to the Observer, two units of the Ugandan army, the 301st and 309th brigades, have been given two weeks for the operation. At least one of these brigades is said to be composed of former LRA fighters, who are perhaps the only ones in the Ugandan army who have the stomach and endurance to effectively take on the LRA.

According to the article, the Ugandan army has also scored recent unreported victories against some scattered units of the LRA that have been wreaking havoc around Yambio, the capital of the Western Equatoria Province of South Sudan.

These attacks have been reported on a very limited basis, and sadly the only defense has been from poorly equipped local militia forces known as Arrow Boys. The name is apt because they are largely only armed with bows and arrows, and hardly a match for the LRA.

But what about Kony? The former wife of Kony said that the psychotic self-proclaimed prophet of his Acholi ethnic group, was frantic after the attack on his camps last December 14.

Apparently he is still in the vicinity of the Garamba National Park in northeastern DR Congo. If Uganda finds some success in the CAR, is Kony next?

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Posted By Peter Eichstaedt to Peter Eichstaedt at 7/09/2009

Orphan bonobos set to be released into the wild in Congo

Orphan bonobos set to be released into the wild in Congo

A group of orphan bonobos are set to be released into the wild in what will be a world's first for the endangered species of primate.

Picture: BARCROFT MEDIA/Telegraph)

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Wednesday, July 08, 2009

LRA kill two in Maridi County, W. Equatoria State, S. Sudan

From Sudan Radio Service, Tuesday, 07 July 2009:
LRA Kill Two in Maridi
(Maridi) – The Lord’s Resistance Army attacked a village in Maridi on Monday, killing two and abducting an unknown number of people.

The LRA have scattered throughout the areas of Western Equatoria causing high levels of insecurity since the end of a joint operation carried out by Uganda, Congo and south Sudan in December 2008.

A resident of Maridi, Noel Kango, described the attack to Sudan Radio Service on Tuesday.

[Noel Kango]: “At around 8 o'clock on the night of 5th July, they appeared at the junction of Embe, in a place called Fenembea. They came there and killed two people: one called Ludu and the other one called Mardamba. They took the wife of Ludu and went with her the same night. The following morning, we heard that they abducted people. They took 7 people. Of the seven, two died. They killed them ahead there.”

It is not clear whether or not the attacks will continue but it has already caused fear among the people in Maridi.

[Noel Kango]: “They came through from the Congo border, they fought and ran back the same way. Nobody knows the reason for their coming but according to what people say, they came and started killing people. Usually, they only come in search of food but nobody knows their exact objective. Most people have run to Maridi and others have gone back to Edi, to a place where there are soldiers - in search of protection. Farmers will not be ready for the growing season if this continues.”

According to Kango, soldiers have been sent from both Edi and Maridi county to the affected area and the surrounding villages to monitor the situation.

Community youth groups are also on a high alert.

Monday, July 06, 2009

ICC launches a series of radio programmes in the Central African Republic (CAR)

From UN News Centre, Monday, 06 July 2009:
ICC begins radio series to explain activities to Central Africans
The International Criminal Court (ICC) today launches a series of radio programmes in the Central African Republic (CAR) as part of an outreach campaign aimed at informing the country’s population about the court’s mandate and activities.
The 13-episode series, which will be broadcast in the Sango language, is called “Understanding the International Criminal Court” and uses a question-and-answer format. At least 14 separate radio stations are expected to air the programmes.

The radio programmes are the result of some 50 outreach sessions held by the ICC in the Central African capital, Bangui, between January and June this year.

Individual episodes will be aired once a week, and the topics include the structure of the court, the rights of suspects, judgement and sentencing and the rights and responsibilities of witnesses and victims.

The situation in the CAR is one of four – along with Sudan’s Darfur region, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Uganda – currently under investigation by the Prosecutor of the ICC, an independent, permanent court that tries persons accused of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
Hat tip: UN Dispatch

Most of the LRA have crossed to Central Africa now?

From Sudan Radio Service, Monday, 06 July 2009:
LRA Still Present Near Yambio After Attacks
(Yambio, Southern Sudan) – Residents of Masumbo and Dimbiro left their homes in panic when at least one person was killed and three others were abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army last week in Western Equatoria State.

Speaking to Sudan Radio Service from Yambio, deputy governor Joseph Ngere said that the LRA attacked the two villages south of Yambio before escaping to Central Africa.

[Ngere –Eng]: “The LRA is around; they have been with us for some time now. They attacked a village called Masumbo, about seven miles south of Yambio. They killed one person and abducted three others and they went back to Congo. Most of the LRA have crossed to Central Africa now. They divided themselves into groups. So I believe there are some groups who have stayed behind just to divert the attention of the main forces from attacking them. We will realign our deployment and increase our patrols so eventually we will get them.”

Ngere added that the attacks by the LRA were provoked by the joint SPLA, Ugandan and DR. Congo operations which intend to oust the rebel group from the region.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

DRC: UN Security Council Report July 2009 Forecast

DRC
The Council is expected to consider the Secretary-General’s report on the DRC, due on 30 June, 2009. The Council is expected to be briefed by the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the DRC, Alan Doss. The mandate of the MONUC expires on 31 December 2009. To read the full text, please click here.

Children and Armed Conflict
In July the Council is expected to consider the annual report on the activities of the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict from 1 July 2008 to 30 June 2009. The Council is likely to be briefed by both France, which was chair of the Working Group until the end of 2008, and Mexico, which took over in January 2009. By the end of July, the Council is also expected to take up the issue of expanding the criteria for including parties to armed conflict in the annexes to the Secretary-General’s report on children and armed conflict, as foreshadowed in its 29 April presidential statement. To read the full text, please click here.

Women, Peace and Security
The Council is expected to hold a debate in July on implementation of resolution 1820 on sexual violence in conflict. (The Secretary-General’s report is due on 30 June). At press time it was unclear whether the report would be received on time and if the Council would consider it in July or August. It was also unclear whether there would be any formal Council action following the debate. To read the full text, please click here.
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