DR Congo

Violence ignored in Congo's Katanga - MSF

By David Lewis

KINSHASA, July 24 (Reuters) - Militiamen and local army units in the north of Congo's copper-rich Katanga province have turned their guns on civilians in violence perpetuated by power brokers and ignored by the world, a French medical aid charity says.

Two years after the end of Congo's war, tens of thousands of civilians in Katanga's north continue to bear the brunt of violence which has little political impact in Kinshasa and the U.N.'s largest peacekeeping operation in the world in unable to control, according to Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF).

"There are various interests to maintain a high level of insecurity because people make money out of insecurity through looting, through rackets and blackmail," Rony Brauman, director of research at the MSF Foundation, told Reuters on Sunday.

"What we have to keep in mind is that peace is not an interesting issue for everyone," he said in Kinshasa.

Brauman was speaking at the launch of "Congo, peace held hostage", an MSF film that documents the burning of villages and rape and killing of civilians in the north Katangan bush.

Katanga is a mineral-rich province that grabbed world headlines during a failed attempt at secession in the early 1960s, prompting the first attempt by the United Nations at intervention in the vast African nation.

During Congo's five year war, the province was once again on the front line of clashes between government soldiers, lawless militiamen who were armed by Kinshasa and the Rwandan-backed rebels they were sent to fight against.

MSF says tens of thousands of civilians have been displaced by post-war violence, which continues "behind closed doors" in north Katanga, while the focus remains on the south of the province and the rest of the country.

"If you compare this to what happens in the Kivus, on the Rwandan and Ugandan borders, you can see there is a greater international interest because these events appear as highly political events," Brauman said.


Rwanda and Uganda were among six neighbouring countries that sent armies into the Congo, backing a plethora of rebel groups during a conflict dubbed "Africa's World War". The war killed nearly four million people, mostly from hunger and disease.

Both countries officially withdrew in 2002 but are still repeatedly accused of meddling in the simmering violence.

"But in northern Katanga they (the clashes) appear as purely local issues that don't have an obvious political meaning. It's not very sexy -- it's not as attractive as a region where you have a lot of foreign troops and blue helmets," Brauman said.

The U.N. has over 16,000 peacekeepers in the Congo but they are spread across a country the size of Western Europe and are increasingly forced to try and impose the peace in the east.

There are just over 100 peacekeepers for the whole of Katanga and Brauman, a former president of MSF-France, questions how effective the U.N. peacekeeping mission can really be.

"There is a huge discrepancy between their objectives and their means. But there is another problem - you cannot impose peace when important people don't want peace. Peace is an internal process," Brauman said.


Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
For more humanitarian news and analysis, please visit https://www.trust.org/alertnet