A Moment of Dialogue in the Chaos of Congo
Publisher: Der Spiegel
Author: By Thilo Thielke
Story date: 09/12/2012
Language: English

After withdrawing from the provincial capital of Goma on Monday, the rebel group M23 was scheduled to meet for talks with Congolese officials in Uganda on Friday. Although they have enjoyed a rare week of peace, residents of eastern Congo are fearful of what failed negotiations might bring.

Sitting in the well-tended garden of the Caritas Hotel, rebel officer Amani Kabasha was in a good mood, enjoying his victory over the Congolese army. "In the port of Goma alone, 500 tons of military equipment are now in our hands," boasted the man from the rebel group known as the M23. "Now we have missiles, lots of ammunition, even a tank." Kabasha allowed his gaze to sweep over the hotel grounds, which his men commandeered after taking the city of Goma, then out toward Lake Kivu and the Virunga Mountains.

M23's top brass, under Col. Sultani Makenga, took up residence in this paradise after capturing Goma on Nov. 20. The United Nations has referred to Makenga and the group's other commanders as "notorious killers." On December 3, these rebels in the Democratic Republic of the Congo retreated from Goma, taking their spoils into the surrounding mountains and marching farther north. They did so on the condition that Congo's government negotiate with them, but they have reportedly only withdrawn to positions 3 kilometers (1.8 miles) from the provincial capital rather than the 20 kilometers they agreed to.

There, they can wait to see what concessions embattled President Joseph Kabila, in the faraway capital of Kinshasa, is willing to make to restore peace to the mineral-rich eastern part of his country. The rebels don't know yet precisely how the conflict might continue, but their demands are clear: They want money, and they want land.

Negotiations between M23 and the Congolese government were scheduled to begin in Kampala, the capital of Uganda, on Friday. However, M23 president Jean-Marie Runiga told the AFP on Friday that delays were expected, and that the talks might actually start on Sunday.

A Confusing Nightmare

"More than 200,000 Tutsis have had to flee the violence in Congo and are now living in camps in Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania," Kabasha claimed. No one can verify that number. The officer maintained that the camps exist and that the Tutsis there "want to return to Congo – that's what we're fighting for." The goal is to gain more land to the west, mainly for the benefit of the Tutsis currently living in densely populated Rwanda.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo covers an enormous area compared to its tiny eastern neighbor, Rwanda, which has been under the firm-handed control of Paul Kagame, a Tutsi, since 1994. War has raged in the eastern part of Congo for some 15 years. Tutsi militias roam the area, looking for natural resources and enemy Hutu militias. The Tutsi militias' enemies also include members of the government's demoralized army and various Mai-Mai militia groups.

Congo can be a confusing nightmare of a place. The country is as big as Western Europe but home to just 70 million people, who in turn belong to 400 ethnic groups and speak nearly as many different languages. People here are fighting for their lives, and alliances shift as quickly as the names of the militias. The M23, for example, previously belonged to a rebel group run by Gen. Laurent Nkunda, then became part of the Congolese army, but is now once again fighting against the army.

In most cases, though, the dividing lines pit Hutus against Tutsis. And, in all of this, there is one constant: The people to suffer most are civilians, who often don't even know who is currently attacking whom.

Child Soldiers

Three hundred kilometers (185 miles) north of Goma, long military convoys were rumbling through Beni. The small trading town is important to the Congolese army because trucks transporting the country's rich supply of natural resources – gold, diamonds, coltan, cassiterite, nickel, copper and tropical wood – pass through here on their way past the Rwenzori Mountains and into Uganda.

To Elvis Sikiline, a 17-year-old resident of Beni, it looked very much like war had found him again. For a year now, Sikiline has participated in a program run by the World Vision organization that helps former child soldiers. Together with Jonathan Kibondo, another former child soldier, Sikiline runs a small carpentry shop, where the two young men build beds and tables. Now Sikiline was consumed by fear that the militias might come back, abduct him and force him to fight again – as they did seven years ago.

Sikiline was just 10 at the time, selling peanuts at a small street-side movie theater in the city of Butembo. "One evening, men with guns stormed in and took all the children," he said. Together with 20 other boys, Sikiline was thrown onto the back of a truck and driven into the woods.

"We learned we were now under the control of a Mai-Mai militia that was fighting against the Tutsis," Sikiline said. "After a week, we had to make a decision: If we joined the fighters now, they would eventually set us free." Two boys refused – and were killed in front of the others: one hanged, the other shot. Then the group marched on with its new recruits.

For the next three months, the boys learned how to fire assault rifles and anti-tank rockets. Then they were full members of the militia, 19 children at war. They traveled through the forests, attacked villages, stole cattle and raped women. Before each battle, militia members rubbed their skin with plants that were supposed to make them invulnerable or drank a bitter brew thought to improve one's shooting.

Sometimes they fought against the government and sometimes for it, but they almost always fought against the hated Tutsis. "I killed many Tutsis," Sikiline said – Tutsis like those who make up the majority of the M23. At night, the boy was plagued by nightmares. He thought about his father, a soldier with the government's army. Had he perhaps been forced to fight against his own father? "We drank a lot of beer and smoked pot to drive away those thoughts," he said.

Elvis Skiline's friend Jonathan Kibondo volunteered to join the Mai-Mai when he was 10. His father had died shortly beforehand, which "made life hard," Kibondo said. So, one day, the boy packed a few clothes and set off to join a militia. His is not an uncommon story in Congo, where Mai-Mai leaders promise their fighters food, money, weapons and adventure. Many families voluntarily send their children to join these bands, which in return promise a bit of protection in the endless war.

Kibondo's main job was to cook for the fighters, but he also fought. This confusing and terrible experience lasted six years. One day, sent to fetch water from a river, he simply ran away. He made it back to his city and found his mother's house. She thought he had died.

Last week, both of them were praying that war would pass them by this time.

Translated from the German by Ella Ornstein
 

U.N. Ambassador Questioned on U.S. Role in Congo Violence
Publisher: The New York Times, USA
Author: By HELENE COOPER
Story date: 09/12/2012
Language: English

WASHINGTON — Almost two decades after the Clinton administration failed to intervene in the genocide in Rwanda, the United States is coming under harsh criticism for not moving forcefully in another African crisis marked by atrocities and brutal killings, this time in Rwanda's neighbor, the Democratic Republic of Congo.

While President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton have taken some of the blame, critics of the Obama administration's Africa policy have focused on the role of Susan E. Rice, the United States ambassador to the United Nations and a leading contender to succeed Mrs. Clinton, in the administration's failure to take action against the country they see as a major cause of the Congolese crisis, Rwanda.

Specifically, these critics — who include officials of human rights organizations and United Nations diplomats — say the administration has not put enough pressure on Rwanda's president, Paul Kagame, to end his support for the rebel movement whose recent capture of the strategic city of Goma in Congo set off a national crisis in a country that has already lost more than three million people in more than a decade of fighting. Rwanda's support is seen as vital to the rebel group, known as M23.

Support for Mr. Kagame and the Rwandan government has been a matter of American foreign policy since he led the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front to victory over the incumbent government in July 1994, effectively ending the Rwandan genocide. But according to rights organizations and diplomats at the United Nations, Ms. Rice has been at the forefront of trying to shield the Rwandan government, and Mr. Kagame in particular, from international censure, even as several United Nations reports have laid the blame for the violence in Congo at Mr. Kagame's door.

A senior administration official said Saturday that Ms. Rice was not freelancing, and that the American policy toward Rwanda and Congo was to work with all the countries in the area for a negotiated settlement to the conflict.

Aides to Ms. Rice acknowledge that she is close to Mr. Kagame and that Mr. Kagame's government was her client when she worked at Intellibridge, a strategic analysis firm in Washington. Ms. Rice, who served as the State Department's top African affairs expert in the Clinton administration, worked at the firm with several other former Clinton administration officials, including David J. Rothkopf, who was an acting under secretary in the Commerce Department; Anthony Lake, Mr. Clinton's national security adviser; and John M. Deutch, who was director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Payton Knopf, a spokesman for Ms. Rice, declined to comment about whether her work with Rwanda at Intellibridge affected her dealings with Rwanda in her present job as the United States ambassador to the United Nations.

Two months ago, at a meeting with her French and British counterparts at the French Mission to the United Nations, according to a Western diplomat with knowledge of the meeting, Ms. Rice objected strongly to a call by the French envoy, Gerard Araud, for explicitly "naming and shaming" Mr. Kagame and the Rwandan government for its support of M23, and to his proposal to consider sanctions to pressure Rwanda to abandon the rebel group.

"Listen Gerard," she said, according to the diplomat. "This is the D.R.C. If it weren't the M23 doing this, it would be some other group." The exchange was reported in Foreign Policy magazine last week.

A few weeks later, Ms. Rice again stepped in to protect Mr. Kagame. After delaying for weeks the publication of a United Nations report denouncing Rwanda's support for the M23 and opposing any direct references to Rwanda in United Nations statements and resolutions on the crisis, Ms. Rice intervened to water down a Security Council resolution that strongly condemned the M23 for widespread rape, summary executions and recruitment of child soldiers. The resolution expressed "deep concern" about external actors supporting the M23. But Ms. Rice prevailed in preventing the resolution from explicitly naming Rwanda when it was passed on Nov. 20.

Mr. Knopf, the spokesman for Ms. Rice, said the view of the United States was that delicate diplomatic negotiations under way among Rwanda, Congo and Uganda could have been adversely affected if the Security Council resolution explicitly named Rwanda. "Working with our colleagues in the Security Council, the United States helped craft a strong resolution to reinforce the delicate diplomatic effort then getting under way in Kampala," Mr. Knopf said.

The negotiations subsequently fell apart, and the M23 continued to make gains in eastern Congo. Last week, the M23 withdrew from Goma but left behind agents and remain in range of the city.

Mr. Knopf declined to confirm or deny the account offered by the United Nations diplomat about the conversation between Ms. Rice and the French ambassador. But he said that "Ambassador Rice has frequently and publicly condemned the heinous abuses perpetrated by the M23 in eastern Congo," adding that the United States was "leading efforts to end the rebellion, including by leveling U.S. and U.N. sanctions against M23 leaders and commanders."

Ms. Rice's critics say that is the crux of the problem with the American response to the crisis in Congo: it ignores, for the most part, the role played by Mr. Kagame in backing the M23, and, as it happens, risks repeating the mistakes of the genocide by not erring on the side of aggressive action. "I fear that our collective regret about not stopping the Rwandan genocide, felt by all of us who worked for the Clinton administration, led to policies that overlooked more waves of atrocities in the Congo, which we should equally regret," said Tom Malinowski, the Washington director of Human Rights Watch, who has worked closely with Ms. Rice both in the Clinton administration and after.

"For almost 20 years now, the premise of U.S. policy has been that quiet persuasion is the best way to restrain Rwanda from supporting war criminals in the Congo," Mr. Malinowski said. "It might have made sense once, but after years of Rwanda doing what the U.S. has urged it not to do, contributing to massive civilian deaths, and ripping up U.N. resolutions that the U.S. sponsored, the time to speak plainly and impose penalties has come."

When Mrs. Clinton appeared before reporters on Nov. 28 to talk about the M23's seizure of Goma, she sprinkled her talking points with a demand that the rebel group withdraw, calling the humanitarian impact "devastating," with 285,000 people forced to flee their homes, health workers abducted and killed, and civil workers under threat of death. But she made no mention of Rwanda's role backing the rebel group, limiting her inclusion of Rwanda to a mention of negotiations with Rwanda, Uganda and the Congo to try to get a cease-fire.

"The M23 would probably no longer exist today without Rwandan support," said Jason K. Stearns, author of "Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of Congo and the Great War of Africa." "It stepped in to prevent the movement from collapsing and has been providing critical military support for every major offensive."

Johnnie Carson, the assistant secretary of state for African affairs, noted that the United States cut a portion of its military financing for Rwanda — around $250,000. But the Rwandan military continues to receive substantial American training, equipment and financial help. In an interview, he said, "There is not an ounce of difference between myself and Ambassador Rice on this issue," adding that quiet diplomacy was better than publicly calling out Mr. Kagame.

Ms. Rice, who has been at the eye of a political storm over her portrayal of the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks on the American Mission in Benghazi, Libya, declined to be interviewed for this article. But in recent days, she seems to have tried to publicly distance herself from the M23 — although still not from Mr. Kagame. On Dec. 3, she posted on her Facebook page: "The U.S. condemns in the strongest terms horrific M23 violence. Any and all external support has to stop," in a reference to action in the Senate.

Her posting drew immediate responses. "Condemn the rape but don't name the rapist?" one of them said. "What kind of Justice is that?"
 

EU to offer Mali another 20 million euros in aid
Publisher: AFP, Agence France Presse
Story date: 09/12/2012
Language: English

The European Union said Sunday it would offer another 20 million euros ($26 million) in humanitarian aid for Mali, bringing the total to 101 million euros to help the country cope with the fallout from the loss of control of the north to Islamist rebel forces.

A European Commission statement said the new funding will "boost the relief effort in all parts of Mali, particularly in the North, as well as in neighbouring countries to which Malian refugees have fled."

The money will be spent to bring food, water and sanitation, shelter, health and protection to the most vulnerable Malians, especially children, women and the elderly, it said.

"While all eyes have been on the conflict in the north of Mali it is essential that we bring the focus back on the humanitarian crisis faced by its people," said Kristalina Georgieva, the European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response.

"Millions of Malians are in dire need of urgent aid and relieving their suffering must be our number one priority," Georgieva said in a statement.

Last month, EU foreign ministers agreed in principle to send a military training mission to Mali to support regional African efforts to wrest control of the north of the country from armed Islamists.

Under the plan, some 250 European officers would be sent to train Malian combat units and help restructure the country's weakened army.

The plan is expected to be formally approved when EU foreign ministers meet again Monday.
 

Somalia: 'Al-Shabab' militants forced out of Jowhar
Publisher: BBC News
Story date: 09/12/2012
Language: English

Somali troops and African Union forces have captured the town of Jowhar from the Islamist militant group, al-Shabab, reports say.

The troops encountered no resistance as the militants had fled, said a military spokesman and residents in the town.

Jowhar was the biggest town under the control of al-Shabab Islamists.

The al-Qaeda linked group has been driven out of most urban areas over the past two years, but still controls many rural areas of the country.

Jowhar, 90km (55 miles) north of the capital, Mogadishu, commands access to Somalia's biggest road linking the southern and central regions of the country. It is also at the heart of a rich agricultural area.

'Strategic'

Correspondents say its fall is a major blow to the militants.

"We took control this morning and are now establishing security in Jowhar," a spokesman for the AU mission in Somalia, Amisom, told AFP news agency.

"Amisom troops alongside Somali National Forces entered the town, there was little fighting as the Shabab largely fled ahead of us," Col Ali Houmed said.

AFP quoted an al-Shabab spokesman as saying the militants had withdrawn "for strategic reasons" and remained "close by".

"We will hunt the invaders from inside and outside Jowhar," Abdiaziz Abu Musab said.

Al-Shabab were forced out of the capital, Mogadishu, in August 2011 by African Union troops who, with government forces, went on to take control of most of the militant-held towns.

Alongside the recent military gains, a new Somali president took office in September, raising some hopes of a return to law and order after two decades of anarchy.
 

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