Thousands of refugees are on the move again, returning home to the eastern city of Goma after Congolese Tutsi renegade general Laurent Nkunda (left in the picture) decided this week to halt his advance on the city. Fighting subsided after the United Nations has secured a cease-fire between the government army and the rebels. Eyewitnesses reported to have seen long lines of displaced people marching for miles on end returning home on foot. News organizations have also reported that the rebels have halted their advanced, but they have set up checkpoints on the outskirts. A Confident Nkunda claimed to have agreed to the truce only to allow humanitarian help to get through and refugees to go home.
The conflict, which has remained dormant for months, has suddenly reemerged, fueling by neglected divides that continue to fester among the ethnic groups in Eastern Congo, namely the Congolese Tutsis who live in that part of the country. Observers believe that what is going on now is a clear leftover from the Rwandan genocide and the country’s everlasting civil wars. Nkunda claims the Congolese government did nothing to protect ethnic Tutsis from the Rwandan Hutu militia that fled to Congo after slaughtering half a million Rwandan Tutsis in 1994.
Although ethnic hatreds cannot be ignored, but many also have assessed that all parties are believed to have benefited from the war through illegal mining of Congo’s vast mineral riches, which leads observers to believe they have no financial interest in stopping the fighting. Demand for minerals has fueled Congo’s conflicts for years. Nkunda has accused the central government inKinshasa of liquidating the country’s natural resources when he refers to a $9 billion agreement in which China gets access to Congo’s minerals in return for building a highway and railroad that would open up the remote mining interior to southern neighbors and a port on the Atlantic.
But the town of Goma itself, especially in its surrounding hillsides, projects a clear manifestation of what diamond money can do. While the vast majority of the population continues to wallow in abject poverty—fed only by soup kitchens run by humanitarian organizations—the most beautiful homes in western Africa could be seen there, housing the fat-belly army commanders. Thousands of people who fled their homes to seek shelter from the fighting between Congo’s army and the rebels have lived where ever they could, scattering around the tropical forests, at the mercy of poisonous snakes and other dangerous animals.
Meanwhile, a flurry of shuttle diplomacy has been well underway, trying to avert another humanitarian crisis. “The cease-fire is fragile,” said Alan Doss, the top U.N. envoy in Congo, who flew into Goma with the senior U.S. envoy for Africa, Jendayi Frazer. “It will not hold if there isn’t progress on other fronts, those political and diplomatic.” He added that both sides assured him they would respect the cease-fire the first news that the army agreed.
France’s Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and British Foreign Secretary David Miliband were to leave immediately for Congo and were expected to go to Goma as well as theCongo capital, Kinshasa.
Ross Mountain, the U.N.’s deputy representative and humanitarian coordinator in Congo, said more than 1 million people have been now displaced. “This is extraordinary,” he said. “A million (displaced) in a province of 6 million.”
Nkunda’s continued rebellion is a chilling reminder of the bloody conflict that devastatedCongo from 1996 to 2002, drawing several other African nations into a regional war, principallyRwanda and Uganda supporting the rebels and Angola and Zimbabwe supporting the Congolese government. President Joseph Kabila, elected in 2006 in the first vote in 40 years, has struggled ever since to contain the bloody insurgency in the east.
Although the war officially ended in 2002, many see the continued rebellion is directly controlled by Kigali, the capital of Rwanda through its president Paul Kagame, who considers Joseph Kabila just like his father Laurent Kabila as a traitor after helping them to remove the late dictator Mobutu Seseko from power. The Rwandans have a strong animosity against Kabila for allowing Hutu militia to flourish in eastern Congo while “neglecting” the ethnic Tutsis there. That is why the international envoys are focusing their efforts on Goma to try to stop the conflict before it spins out of control. A main aim of the diplomatic efforts is to get Kabila and Rwandan President Paul Kagame to sit down together and sort out the issues at the root of the conflict.
Nkunda, who said Thursday that he wanted direct talks with the Congo government, began a low-level rebellion in 2004, claiming Congo’s transition to democracy had excluded the Tutsi ethnic group. Despite agreeing in January to a U.N.-brokered cease-fire, he resumed fighting in August. Congo has charged Nkunda himself with involvement in war crimes, and Human Rights Watch says it has documented summary executions, torture, and rape committed by soldiers under Nkunda’s command in 2002 and 2004.
Also see: Haiti lies in ruin after being struck by hurricanes