Q&A: DR Congo conflict

Q&A: DR Congo conflict

Congolese rebels pictured north of Goma in November 2008

A draft UN report says crimes by the Rwandan army and allied rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo from 1993 to 2003 could be classified as genocide.

The east of the country is still plagued by army and militia violence despite the end of the country's five-year war in 2003 in which more than five million people lost their lives - the deadliest conflict since World War II.

What has the fighting been about?

DR Congo is extremely wealthy - and extremely big. Similar in size to Western Europe, it abounds with diamonds, gold, copper, cobalt and zinc.

The country also has supplies of coltan, which is used in mobile phones and other electronic gadgets, and cassiterite, used in food packaging.

DR Congo and Rwanda: Troublesome neighbours

  • April-June 1994: Genocide of Tutsis in Rwanda
  • June 1994: Paul Kagame's Tutsi rebels take power in Rwanda, Hutus flee into Zaire
  • Rwanda's army enters eastern Zaire to pursue Hutu fighters
  • 1997: Laurent Kabila's AFDL, backed by Rwanda, takes power in Kinshasa

Unfortunately for the people of DR Congo, its resource wealth has rarely been harnessed for their benefit.

This vast country has hardly any roads or railways, while the health and education systems lie in ruins.

Instead, the natural riches have attracted rapacious adventurers, unscrupulous corporations, vicious warlords and corrupt governments and divided the population between competing ethnic groups.

In the early 20th Century Belgian forces arrived and enslaved millions, while King Leopold ruled the country as his personal fiefdom.

During a painful independence struggle in the 1960s, the vast country almost disintegrated as regions fought each other.

But Joseph Mobutu seized power in 1965 and set about crushing internal rebellions and unifying the nation - eventually changing its name to Zaire.

However, Mobutu was soon seduced by wealth and once he controlled most of the country and gained a level of stability and prosperity, he began using the country's riches for one thing - to ensure he remained in power.

As his rule went on, his plunder continued and the country gradually slipped out of his control.

The 1994 genocide in neighbouring Rwanda hastened his downfall and helped plunge DR Congo into the deadliest conflict in African history.

Why did Rwanda's genocide affect DR Congo so badly?

Eastern DR Congo has porous borders.

After Rwanda's genocidal Hutu regime was overthrown, more than two million Hutus are thought to have fled into DR Congo fearing reprisals against them by the new, Tutsi-dominated government.

Among them were many of the militiamen responsible for the genocide.

People fleeing fighting in eastern DR Congo - November 2008 Unrest in the east has forced hundreds of thousands of people from their homes

They quickly allied themselves with Mobutu's government and began to attack DR Congo's sizeable population of ethnic Tutsis, who had lived in the country for generations.

Rwanda's Tutsi government started to back rival militias, fighting both the Hutu militias and Congolese government troops.

The Tutsi militias, allied to other local groups backed by Uganda, eventually marched on Kinshasa and overthrew Mobutu's government.

They installed Laurent Kabila as president and he renamed the country - from Zaire to DR Congo.

But Kabila failed to expel the Hutu militia and tiny Rwanda, which had put him in power, soon sent a new force to oust him.

Kabila then called in help from Zimbabwe, Namibia and Angola and for the next five years all six countries, and others, fought a proxy war on Congolese land.

All sides were accused of using the cover of the war to loot the country's riches.

More than five million people died in the war and its aftermath - mostly from starvation or disease.

Although the war was declared over in 2003, the east of the country continues to be unstable

Has DR Congo achieved any kind of peace?

Most of the country has now found peace and the central government has slowly reasserted control.

The country even started to live up to its name by having the first democratic elections in more than four decades, which saw the late Laurent Kabila's "son"(adopted son), Joseph, "elected" as president.

A child soldier in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1998 Many groups have been accused of using child soldiers

But a proxy war between Rwanda and the Kinshasa government continued in the east until the end of 2008.

Notorious Tutsi warlord Gen Laurent Nkunda - who most analysts believe was backed by Rwanda - waged a campaign to destroy Hutu rebels from the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).

He accused the government of backing the FDLR.

A sea-change in the conflict came about in late 2008 when Rwanda and DR Congo joined forces to combat the FDLR in the provinces of North and South Kivu.

As part of the deal, Gen Nkunda was taken out of the country and put under house arrest in Rwanda - where he remains.

But the bitter conflict has continued unabated and Congolese government troops, backed by thousands of UN peacekeepers, have failed to defeat the FDLR rebels.

Reports of mass rapes, killings and other atrocities committed by rebels and government troops continue.

What is the UN doing?

The UN's peacekeeping mission has been in DR Congo for 10 years.

At one point it was the biggest peacekeeping operation in the world, with almost 20,000 personnel on the ground.

It is mandated to protect civilians and also help in the reconstruction of the country.

UN peacekeeper in DR Congo, December 2008 President Joseph Kabila wants UN peacekeepers out of the country by the end of 2011

But as the battles in the east have rumbled on, the allegiances and intentions of the major players have become increasingly murky.

Warlords have been absorbed into the army but are widely accused of carrying out atrocities and running their own personal militias.

Army commanders have been accused of supplying the FDLR - the very rebels they are supposed to be fighting.

Human rights groups say the army and the FDLR are working together to exploit mines.

And Human Rights Watch has suggested the UN is risking becoming complicit in atrocities against civilians.

In November 2009, a report by UN-commissioned experts said UN involvement had done nothing to quell the violence - with rebels continuing to kill and plunder natural resources with impunity and claims the rebels are supported by an international crime network stretching through Africa to Western Europe and North America.

UN peacekeeping troops continue to back efforts to defeat the FDLR, but rights groups have warned that it will be impossible to defeat the FDLR without tackling their backers.

In August 2010, the UN force came in for more criticism for not doing anything to stop the rape of more than 150 women and children within miles of their base near Luvungi, saying they only heard about the attacks 10 days afterwards.

Meanwhile, the Congolese government has said it wants the UN force to leave by the end of 2011 - when elections are due.

So in July, to reflect its changing status, the force changed its name from the UN Organisation Mission in DR Congo - known by its French acronym Monuc - to the UN Organisation Stabilisation Mission - Monusco.

Map on DR Congo and its neighbours

No ratings yet - be the first to rate this.

(c)copy right shiminundong 2010

Make a free website with emyspot.com - Report abuse