DR Congo

Warnings of deterioration in the DR Congo

UN Security Council hears warning of potential violence against Tutsis in South Kivu, the Kabila government charges Rwanda buried 15 women alive in the east, and Kinshasa moves to a full war footing
The UN Security Council went behind closed doors on December 21 to address warnings received about the deteriorating situation in the DR Congo. The Assistant Secretary-General of the UN for peacekeeping, Mr. Hedi Annabi, warned of the potential of an outbreak of hostilities in eastern Congo, most notably South Kivu Province, targeted against Tutsis living there. For its part, the Kabila government charged that Rwandan occupation forces buried 15 Congolese women alive for collaborating with loyalist forces, and the Kabila government asked the UN to investigate the allegation.

Fred Eckhard, Secretary General Annan's press spokesman, issued some statements following the Security Council session, which was closed to journalists. Edith Lederer reported for AP from New York that Annabi urged the council to call on all sides to observe the cease-fire in Congo, stop new offensives, "and do everything possible to prevent outbreaks of violence, especially in South Kivu" province. Britain's Ambassador Greenstock, the current council president, said the reports of fighting had "raised council concern." Annabi expressed concern about reports from the South Kivu area "strongly suggesting that the slightest incident could trigger large-scale organized attacks against the civilian population there, notably those of Tutsi origin." Annabi told the council, "given the level of threat to the Congolese Tutsi community, that they themselves could trigger an anti-Tutsi offensive through violent actions against their neighbors."

Reuters reported on December 21 that Eckhard said all parties should refrain from "hostile propaganda and bellicose statements and permit access by humanitarian organizations."

It is not clear precisely what prompted these warnings from Annabi, though there is a suggestion that they were partly motivated by the recently published blistering critique of the UN failure to prevent and then stop the Rwandan Genocide of 1994. There is a sense that Annabi's warnings might be at least partly designed to cover his hind-quarter and that of the Security Council, should an eruption of violence actually emerge. The Security Council session was closed to the public, so it is not known publicly what the specifics of his supporting facts were. In addition, there is no evidence that the Security Council took any overt action on his warning, other then to send out Fred Eckhard to make some statements.

For its part, the Kabila government has asked the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, to investigate allegations that Rwandan troops buried 15 Congolese women alive in the South Kivu area last week. The human rights minister, Leonard She Okitundu, said the allegations were based on reports from COGESKI, a Congolese human rights organization with links in rebel and Rwandan-held areas in the eastern regions. Okitundu said that Rwandan soldiers apparently buried the women after they were suspected of collaborating with local Mai-Mai militia fighting alongside forces loyal to Kabila. Reuters quoted Okitundu saying, "We received information from COGESKI that 15 women were buried alive by Rwandan troops in South Kivu. I have appealed to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, to denounce the event and to constitute a commission of enquiry immediately." No reaction has yet been seen from Robinson.

Over in Kinshasa, reports are emerging to reflect a capital city moving to a war footing. Alexander Zavis reported for AP that the skies are buzzing with military helicopters, the curfew remains in effect, and government officials are beating the streets recruiting a civilian defense force. Zavis quoted Information Minister Mumengi asking rhetorically, "What do you want us to do? Because we have signed the accord, just cross our arms? No government can accept that an aggressor remains on its soil." This has been the bottom line principle spoken by the Kabila government since the early days of this war. President Kabila a few weeks ago vowed that the invasion and occupation forces would be repelled and forced out of the country by year's end if they failed to withdraw voluntarily. There is absolutely no evidence to indicate they will withdraw voluntarily, so the stage seems set for more violent confrontation, or the Kabila government will have to back down from its promise and the country will enter the next century occupied and fragmented in a kind of de facto partition-annexation.

Zavis reported that the government has been recruiting civilians for a neighborhood-based defense force and has recruited "tens of thousands of people," partly helped by the very high unemployment rate. President Kabila told a crowd of about 20,000 new recruits, "The country is still at war. You must have weapons, because you will quickly wipe away the enemies of the people." Banners have been strung up on city streets saying "Peace comes at a price," and "Defending the nation is a sacred duty." The national television and radio stations have been encouraging vigilance against "enemy infiltration." The government even organized a 15-day "Patriotic Awakening" campaign, featuring rallies, lectures and workshops on themes such as the patriotic duties of state officials, security forces, journalists and artists.

With all that said, however, it is not sure that Kinshasa's residents are focused on the war effort, perhaps thinking that all this hoopla is simply political propaganda. Zavis said they are more focused on making it through their day unemployed, without money, without food. The city is plagued by water shortages, power outages, and fuel scarcity. The economy, already in disaster shape from the Mobutu era, is now in a total shambles. Food shelves are often empty, jobs are scarce, foreign investment is virtually non-existent, prohibitive investment and foreign exchange rules are in place, and Kinshasa is fast becoming a "lost city." For its part, the Kabila government is blaming all these economic woes on the war, able to deflect its own mismanagement and poor governance. As a result, there is nothing on Kinshasa's horizon to make one optimistic that a revival might be in its deck of cards.