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.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

DR Congo leader issues ultimatum

Nov 23 2006 BBC report says the President of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Joseph Kabila, has given the forces of his presidential rival 48 hours to leave Kinshasa.
Mr Kabila has been declared the provisional winner of recent polls.

However, his rival, Jean-Pierre Bemba, has complained of fraud. The Supreme Court is to rule on the claims shortly.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

DR Congo court burnt in poll protest

Nov 21 2006 BBC report Congo court burnt in poll protest - excerpt:
The Democratic Republic of Congo's Supreme Court has been set on fire during protests over alleged fraud in the presidential run-off.
Supporters of Jean-Pierre Bemba, the ex-rebel leader who says he was cheated of victory, clashed with police.

Police used tear gas and UN peacekeepers fired shots in the air, with two vehicles burnt by protesters.

The violence led the Supreme Court to suspend its hearing into Mr Bemba's claims he was cheated of victory.

Mr Bemba's party has condemned what it called "acts of vandalism" against the court, and said it would have no reason to try to derail court proceedings.

President Joseph Kabila was last week declared the winner, with 58% of the vote against 42% for Mr Bemba.

The elections are supposed to draw a line under a five-year conflict in which some four million people died.

Friday, October 20, 2006

European military to reinforce DRC presence

Oct 19 2006 Sapa-AFP report via IOL
Kinsasha - A European Union military force deployed in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) ahead of landmark elections will augment its number to almost 1 500 men at the weekend, it announced on Thursday.

EUFOR spokesperson Lieutenant-Colonel Thierry Fusalba said 200 Dutch and German soldiers currently based in Gabon will fly to the DRC capital Kinshasa between on Friday and the start of next week.

"This doesn't mean EUFOR has received intelligence leading to fear of trouble," Fusalba said. "It's a precautionary measure to be sure we're ready for anything."

Voters in the huge central African country will go to the polls on October 29 for the last round of a presidential election in which the incumbent Joseph Kabila faces a strong challenge from former rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba. The poll is the culmination of a difficult transition to democracy.

Violent confrontations between Kabila and Bemba supporters have taken place daily, leaving at least half a dozen people injured, in different towns across the nation since the final part of the campaign began last weekend.

The EUFOR operation currently consists of about 1 200 troops in Kinshasa and a standby force of roughly the same number in Gabon. They were deployed with a UN mandate to keep the peace in the capital, easing the burden of the UN Mission in DRC (MONUC).

EUFOR troops did intervene in Kinshasa when heavy fighting erupted between armed supporters of Kabila and Bemba on August 21 in the capital after results of the first round were issued.

Those clashes claimed 23 lives and German reinforcements were flown in from Gabon, but they took 24 hours and Fusalba said that operation was too long. The extra troops were coming to "shorten the delay in intervention".

The MONUC force is the largest UN mission in the world and includes 17 600 troops, 80 percent of whom are now deployed in the more volatile east of the DRC, where mobile operational bases have been reinforced.

MONUC has been monitoring and supporting a drawn-out peace process in the country since before it emerged in 2003 from the last of successive conflicts. The 1998-2003 war drew in the armies of more than half a dozen countries and directly or indirectly claimed more than three million lives.

Monday, September 04, 2006

MSF aid workers pull out of Gety, DRC

Aid workers have fled Gety, in the Ituri District of DRC, after attacks by armed gangs. They have retreated to Bunia, the district capital, 60 km northwest, and are trying to find a way to continue assisting more than 40,000 displaced people, an official said.

Full story IRIN 1 Sep 2006. Excerpt:
"We were attacked by armed groups and it could happen again at any time," Patrick Albert, the head of Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) in Gety, said on Friday.

"The health of the displaced people there is terrible and they now have grossly insufficient food," he said.

"Many only recently emerged from the forest where they had been hiding for up to four months," he said. "They are fragile and the mortality rate is high."

At least 10 people are dying every day in displacement camps in Gety, the UN Office for Humanitarian Coordination (OCHA) said in August. "It's higher than the norm," Modibo Traore, the head of OCHA in Bunia, said.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Top UN aid official to visit DRC, Uganda and southern Sudan

UN News Centre report 31 Aug 2006 - excerpt:
Although the troubled eastern half of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has made some progress recently, there have also been serious setbacks and donor funding falls way below local needs, the United Nations' most senior humanitarian official said today.

UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland told reporters at UN HQ in New York that the humanitarian needs in the eastern DRC are probably greater than anywhere else in the world as he announced he would visit central Africa next week.

Mr Egeland will then travel to Uganda before finishing his tour in Juba, southern Sudan, where peace talks involving the Ugandan Government and the rebel LRA are taking place. Last weekend the LRA and Uganda signed a cessation of hostilities agreement to end their 20-year conflict in the north of the nation.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

DRC: Guns silenced with a ceasefire

Bodies are still lying in the streets of Kinshasa and pillaging continues in some neighbourhoods but a ceasefire reached late on Tuesday between President Joseph Kabila and Vice-President Jean-Pierre Bemba seems to be holding.

Full report IRIN 23 Aug 2006.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

EU boosts DRC force amid battle

Some 400 extra European Union troops are being flown into DRC capital, Kinshasa, in an attempt to quell gun battles.

The Dutch and German peacekeepers were on standby in nearby Gabon in case of violence during last month's elections. - BBC

Monday, August 21, 2006

UN peacekeepers in DRC rescue trapped envoys

UN peacekeepers in the DRC have rescued several foreign ambassadors trapped in a house in Kinshasa by heavy shooting.

"They're out and they'tr coming to UN headquarters. Everyone's safe," a spokesman for the UN force said, after the diplomats were rescued. - BBC

Diplomats flee DR Congo shooting

Several foreign ambassadors in the DRC have sought shelter in the house of an opposition leader after heavy shooting, BBC reported today:
They include the UK envoy and the head of the UN mission, a UN official said.

He said the UN, which has the world's largest peacekeeping force in DR Congo, has sent armoured vehicles to the area.

The gunfire follows Sunday's clashes between forces loyal to President Joseph Kabila and Jean-Pierre Bemba, rivals in October's election run-off.

UN spokesman Jean-Tobie Okala said the situation was confused, but confirmed that the envoys had sought refuge in Mr Bemba's residence in the city centre.

The ambassadors from the permanent five members of the UN Security Council - the UK, France, Russia, the US and China - were due to have been meeting Congolese politicians nearby although it is not yet clear which of them is trapped there.

Breaking News: Gunfight pins down envoys in DRC capital

This is terrible: just in, from The Salon Breaking News: DRC:
Gunfight pins down envoys in Congo capital - Yahoo! News: "KINSHASA (Reuters) - Soldiers loyal to Congo's President Joseph Kabila opened fire on Monday around a house where U.N. officials and ambassadors were meeting his main political rival Jean-Pierre Bemba, witnesses said.

They said the presidential guard used at least one tank and heavy machine guns in a gunfight with Bemba's armed supporters around his riverside house.

The gunfire erupted for a second day, hours after electoral officials announced a presidential run-off vote between Kabila and Bemba following July 30 elections.

'The entire CIAT (foreign donors' group) is in Bemba's house having a meeting with him. Kabila's people are firing on the area,' a U.N. source, who asked not to be named, told Reuters.

A western diplomat said the ambassadors were pinned down in a safe room in the house.

A Reuters correspondent saw plumes of thick, black smoke rising from the area of the residence.

The shooting followed gunbattles on Sunday between soldiers loyal to Kabila and armed supporters of Bemba. The two are due to face off in a second-round vote on October 29."

DR Congo election outcome forces run-off

President Kabila wins DR Congo's landmark poll, but fails to secure 50% of the vote, forcing a second round.

Full story: BBC