Saturday, September 22, 2007

New Ebola cases seen in DR Congo

Another nine cases of the deadly Ebola virus are confirmed in DR Congo, where 174 have already died. - BBC September 22, 2007. Excerpt:
The World Health Organisation says nine further cases of the deadly Ebola virus have been confirmed in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

At least 174 people in the country's West Kasai region have died so far in the current outbreak.

Symptoms of the epidemic - high temperature, bloody diarrhoea and visible haemorrhaging - were first seen in the region on 27 April.

There is no known cure for Ebola, which is fatal in around 80% of cases.

Photo source:

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Gorilla guardians in DR Congo

For pictures of a park ranger's life in lawless eastern DR Congo, see today's article at BBC News online entitled "Gorilla guardians, Protection".

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

DRC: militia threaten to kill rare gorillas

May 21 2007 Reuters AlertNet report by Joe Bavier:
KINSHASA, May 21 (Reuters) - Congolese militia are threatening to slaughter rare mountain gorillas in Congo's Virunga National Park after they raided the eastern reserve at the weekend, killing a wildlife officer, officials said.

Up to three more local wildlife workers were injured in the attacks early on Sunday by Mai Mai militia fighters on three conservation and tourism camps in the park, in Democratic Republic of Congo's violence-torn North Kivu province.
Officials in Virunga, Africa's oldest national park established in 1925, said on Monday the attackers looted the three sites, seizing arms and communications equipment.

The area attacked is only two hours walk from a unique and isolated population of gorillas, according to WildlifeDirect, an organisation involved in conservation in Virunga, which is home to half of the 700 mountain gorillas that remain in the world.

"This was an unprovoked attack on our Rangers and other wildlife officers who protect Virunga's wildlife. And the Mai Mai said that if we retaliate, they will kill all the gorillas in this area," Virunga's Park Director Norbert Mushenzi said in a statement distributed by WildlifeDirect.

During the raids, 13 other local wildlife workers were taken hostage by the militia fighters but were subsequently released, WildlifeDirect said.
Despite the end of a 1998-2003 war in Congo and historic elections held last year in the former Belgian colony, renegade militia and rebel groups still operate in the east of the country, raiding villages and terrorising civilians.

Conservationists also accuse the Mai Mai of slaughtering hundreds of hippos with machine guns on the southern shores of Lake Edward in late 2006.


Lunpali Adanbert, communications officer for the World Wildlife Foundation in the provincial capital Goma, told Reuters the wildlife officer killed on Sunday had been gathering data for the WWF from villagers.

Park officials believe the attacks may also have been motivated by a long standing conflict between conservationists and local people living illegally within the Virunga reserve, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Besides mountain gorillas, it is also home to eastern lowland gorillas and chimpanzees.

"The assailants said they would continue this kind of violence, if the local people continue to be chased out of the park," said Benoit Kisuki Mathe, an official with the Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation.

The institute said wildlife rangers were tracking the militia and local army units were also being sent to the area.

In January, WildlifeDirect accused rebel fighters loyal to a renegade Congolese army general of butchering two silverback gorillas -- adult males so called because of their grey colouring. But the rebel fighters of General Laurent Nkunda later agreed to stop killing the rare primates.

Richard Leakey, Chairman of WildlifeDirect and credited with ending the slaughter of elephants in Kenya in the 1980s, said that since the beginning of armed conflict in eastern Congo more than 150 wildlife rangers have been killed on active service.

Violence in North Kivu province has been on the rise in recent months due to failing efforts to integrate rebel fighters into the ranks of the national army. Civilians say abuses have increased, often by these "mixed" army units.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Indian Army aviators head for Congo on UN deployment

Mar 5 2007 Malaysia Sun (IANS) report:
Seventy Indian Army aviators leave here Sunday for the Congo for deployment as UN peacekeepers in the country's restive Katanga province on what has been described as a 'dangerous and important' mission.

'You are going on a dangerous and important mission. It is important for you to maintain high standards of discipline and professionalism,' Lt. Gen. K.S. Jamwal, who heads the Indian Army's Kolkata-based Eastern Command, said at the flagging off ceremony of the contingent here Monday.

'It is a matter of pride that you should have been chosen for this challenging assignment,' he added.

Jamwal is the colonel commandant of the Army Aviation Corps to which the 12 officers, six junior commissioned officers, and 52 other ranks of the Congo-bound ninth (Independent) Reconnaissance and Observation Flight belong.

'We have a heavy responsibility on our shoulders. It will be our endeavour to give of our best,' the contingent commander, Lt. Col. G.S. Sheokand, told IANS.

The contingent, which will operate four Cheetah light helicopters, will replace a similar number of personnel who have been serving in the Congo for the last six months. It will be under the command of the 301 Infantry Brigade that also includes three army battalions and an Indian Air Force element of about a dozen Mi-17 and Mi-35 attack helicopters.

'We will be operating in close coordination with the IAF on reconnaissance and observation. We will also serve as the pathfinders for the air force attack helicopters if the situation warrants that they go into action,' Sheokand said of the mission.

Unlike UN peacekeeping operations in other hotspots of the world, the Congo deployment is termed a chapter seven mission under the UN charter. This means the troops are authorised to go into action if the situation so warrants.

The other deployments are termed chapter six missions, meaning that the troops can open fire only in self-defence.

Currently, some 9,000 armed forces personnel serve worldwide under the UN flag. Of them, 8,265, including 26 women, are from the Indian Army, and 500 are from the Indian Air Force.

Of the army troops, 3,707 serve in the Congo, 2,385 in Sudan, 971 in Ethiopia/Eritrea, 835 in Lebanon, and 172 on the Golan Heights. This apart, the army has also deployed 169 officers and observers at different UN missions.

In addition, 125 women troopers of the paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) have been deployed in Liberia.

India's involvement in UN peacekeeping operations began in 1950, when a brigade was deployed to enforce an armistice on the Korean peninsula. Since then, India has contributed 85,000 soldiers for 43 missions worldwide, but the current deployment is the largest at any given time.

India is the third largest contributor to UN peacekeeping missions after Bangladesh and Pakistan.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

DRC troops jailed for war crimes

Feb 20 2007 BBC report excerpt:
Thirteen soldiers have been jailed for life after the discovery of mass graves in the north-eastern Ituri region of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

A military court found them guilty of killing about 30 civilians found buried in the graves in November last year.

The soldiers who were tried came from the army's First Brigade - one of several made up of fighters from factions who fought in DR Congo's 1998-2003 war.
Note, the report also tells us, in a separate trial in Bunia, four members of the same unit were jailed for life for the murder of two UN military observers in 2003. Two others were given jail terms of 10 and 20 years.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

New government formed in DR Congo

A new government has been announced in the Democratic Republic of Congo after last year's landmark elections.

Prime Minister Antoine Gizenga - appointed in December by President Joseph Kabila - has named a cabinet consisting mostly of Kabila supporters.

Former rebel leader Mbusa Nyamwisi gets the foreign ministry, Denis Kalume remains interior minister and Nzanga Mobutu is the new agriculture minister.

Full story BBC 6 Feb 2007.

Monday, January 29, 2007

ICC: Global Court to Rule on Charges For First Trial

Jan 29 2007 Reuters report (via CFD):
The International Criminal Court (ICC) was due to rule on Monday whether there was enough evidence against a Congolese militiaman for recruiting child soldiers to launch the new court's first trial.

Confirming charges against Thomas Lubanga is eagerly anticipated as it would trigger the first trial at the ICC, set up as the first permanent global war crimes court in 2002.

The Coalition for the International Criminal Court, a network of organisations supporting the work of the ICC, said moving towards a trial would be an "historic decision" for the court that is now supported by 104 nations.

The court could also throw out the charges, request further evidence and investigations, or ask prosecutors to consider amending a charge. Some victims' groups want the charges expanded to include crimes such as killings, rape and torture.

The Democratic Republic of Congo -- rich in gold, diamonds and timber -- was the battleground for rebels, local factions, tribes and several neighbouring countries in a 1998-2003 war in which 4 million people died, mainly from hunger and disease.

Prosecutors say Lubanga, the founder and leader of one of the most dangerous militia in Congo's Ituri district, trained children to kill, made them kill and let them be killed.

The 46-year-old, who holds a degree in psychology, has denied the charges. His lawyer has accused the prosecution of withholding information he needs to prepare the defence.

Lubanga is the only suspect to be delivered so far to the court that issued its first arrest warrants in 2005 for leaders of Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), who have led a 20-year insurgency that has killed tens of thousands.

ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo also plans to charge suspects soon for atrocities in Sudan's Darfur region, which the U.N. Security Council asked him to investigate in 2005.

The United States has fiercely opposed the ICC, fearing it would be used for politically-motivated prosecutions of its soldiers and citizens, but its hostility to the court is waning and it abstained when the Security Council voted on Darfur.

Lubanga, leader of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC), an ethnic militia now registered as a political party, is accused of using children to kill members of the Lendu ethnic group.

Ethnic violence in the Ituri region between the Hema and Lendu and clashes between militia groups vying for control of mines and taxation have killed 60,000 people since 1999.

Up to 30,000 children were associated with Congo's armed groups during the height of the war, according to estimates.

The ICC prosecutors' indictment said the children, who often joined the militia because of their desperate need for food or desire to avenge their murdered families, were subject to systematic military training and severe discipline.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

DR Congo first stop of UN Secretary General's African tour - BBC

BBC report via Kuna Jan 27 2007:
The United Nations (UN) Secretary General Ban Ki-moon Saturday began his African tour, aimed at bringing peace to the troubled Sudanese province of Darfur, by arriving to the Congolese capital, Kinshasa.

According to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), the UN Secretary's tour, which would take him to Ethiopia and Kenya, would focus on promoting peace in the African continent.

As for choosing Congo as first stop, Ban stated that the African country would act as neutral ground to launch peace talks regarding Darfur, adding that Congo hosts the largest UN peacekeeping force in the world with about 17, 000 soldiers deployed.

The UN official also pointed out that Congo still needed international support to strengthen democracy, revealing that he would discuss this issue with senior officials, namely President Joseph Kabila.

During his visit to Addis Ababa, the UN official will attend the African Union's (AU) summit to be held next Monday and meet with Sudanese President Omar Hassan Al-Bashir.

On his meeting with Al-Bashir, Ban pointed out that it was not scheduled on his tour agenda but stated that he would use seize the chance to express his deepest concern concerning the Darfur crisis.

He indicated that he would demand Al-Bashir reveal his intentions and stance vis a vis the idea of a UN-AU peacekeeping force, following initial reports that the Sudanese President approval of such a plan in principle.