Last week, clashes between the Congolese army, FARDC, and militias lead by General Laurent Nkunda erupted in North Kivu province, marking the worst violations to-date of a ceasefire agreement signed in January 2008. Now, the United Nations peacekeeping mission in DRC, MONUC, is facing violent protests as it attempts to restore calm. Although all sides have repeatedly violated the ceasefire, eastern DRC has remained relatively stable since January, at least compared to conditions during the country’s devastating civil war (1998-2003). However, following this week’s violence, international observers fear that eastern DRC may again be deteriorating into all-out war.
The recent violence began last Thursday near the town of Rutushuru in North Kivu. As the two sides exchanged mortar fire, each blamed the other for initiating hostilities. The outbreak followed reports of building tensions throughout the previous weeks as the various groups rearmed. At the time, UN Special Representative to DRC, Alan Doss, said the UN did not know whether "this [was] the beginning of the end for the peace treaty signed in Goma last January."
After the fighting began, MONUC prepared to launch investigations to determine which party was responsible, and deployed armed personnel to the area. The mission immediately issued statements condemning the fighting, urging both sides to use restraint and to return to their initial positions, and reminding both sides that all acts of military engagement, including counterattacks, constitute violations of the ceasefire.
In a fact-finding visit to North Kivu two days after the clashes began, Doss urged the local populations not to hinder MONUC’s work, and assured them that "the only goal of the Peacekeeping Mission is to let Congo return to normal and help end fighting once and for all."
However, MONUC’s suggestion that the Congolese army should cede territory it had taken from Nkunda’s rebel forces drew strong protests from populations around Rutushuru. On Tuesday, the protests turned violent, as crowds attacked a convoy of international mediators. On Wednesday, MONUC peacekeepers were forced to seek refuge at a base after being attacked by demonstrators.
Local populations, the Congolese government, and Nkunda’s rebels have all expressed suspicion about MONUC’s objectives. According to peace process laid out in the January agreement, known as the Amani process, all armed groups were to disengage, leaving buffer zones for MONUC to occupy. MONUC is also charged with protecting local populations in imminent danger and reporting on violations of the ceasefire agreement.
In a press conference on Wednesday, the mission pledged to "redouble efforts" to successfully implement the Amani program. The same day, fresh fighting erupted between FARDC and CNDP. According to MONUC, FARDC has managed to capture more territory previously held by Nkunda. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), reports that at least 8,000 civilians have been forced from their homes by the recent violence.
–Nina McMurry, Congo Education Coordinator