Insight: Congo army debacle at Goma raises specter of betrayal
Publisher: Reuters
Story date: 10/12/2012
Language: English

By Jonny Hogg and Ed Stoddard

GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo | Mon Dec 10, 2012 8:08am EST

GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) – When Congo's government army retreated in panic from the eastern city of Goma last month, many observers blamed the poor morale and leadership, ill discipline and corruption that have sapped its fighting capacity for years.

In the hours before Goma fell to M23 rebels on November 20, drunk and terrified Congolese soldiers roamed the streets or huddled in doorways before melting away, witnesses said.

M23's 11-day occupation of the city was one of the worst battlefield defeats for Democratic Republic of Congo's armed forces (FARDC), which at 150,000-strong are among the largest in Africa. They are also backed by 17,000 U.N. peacekeepers.

As recriminations swirl over the Goma defeat, which forced President Joseph Kabila to accept talks with a group he says is a creation of Rwanda, allegations have emerged that betrayal in the army's ranks may have precipitated the rout.

The government has launched an investigation but says it has reached no conclusions; little evidence has come to light beyond anonymous allegations against officers from subordinates who accuse their commanders of selling them out. The general blamed by some denies any such deals with rebels he once commanded.

But the scandal alone shows how deep suspicion runs within an army that has absorbed successive waves of former enemies as a series of civil wars has ended.

One senior FARDC officer who fought the M23 uprising said he believed Goma was lost because of what he called sabotage of the army's fighting capability.

"All of our intelligence was given to M23," the officer alleged, saying that throughout the fighting "there was intense communications with them" from within the government ranks.

Speaking on condition of anonymity because army regulations forbid him from commenting publicly, he said he was convinced former land forces commander, Major General Gabriel Amisi had been in contact with the rebel side. He said he had served alongside the general in the field.

A member of Amisi's military entourage said the general "rejects categorically" allegations of betrayal: "He could never do that, he wants nothing from the rebels," the aide said. "He only just escaped with his life, five of his own men died."

Amisi himself, dressed in colorful robes and sandals, greeted a Reuters reporter at his guarded residence in Kinshasa on Friday. He declined to discuss the allegations. The aide said the general had been ordered by President Kabila not to talk to media about the subject.

An army spokesman, Colonel Olivier Hamuli, said "many factors" led to the debacle, which is being investigated: "As to whether there was treason by General Amisi, I can't say yes or no to that."

Amisi, widely known as "Tango Four" from his old radio call sign, was suspended just days after the rebel capture of the city following a report by U.N. experts alleging he sold weapons to armed groups accused of killing civilians.

TANGLED RELATIONSHIPS

Amisi's ties to a previous, Rwandan-backed eastern rebellion during Congo's 1998-2003 war highlight the confused integration process over the last decade that has seen the FARDC absorb tens of thousands of former rebels and militia fighters.

M23 itself is formed largely of men who were rebels, then were brought into the army and then mutinied again, accusing the Kabila government of breaking a deal signed on March 23, 2009.

Congo's army is widely seen as a symptom of the vast central African nation's dysfunctional state, weakened by years of mismanagement, graft and conflict.

This has produced a security vacuum, particularly in the volatile eastern borderlands, a tinderbox of ethnic conflicts where regional powers and local elites compete for political influence and also for resources of gold, tin and coltan, the latter used in the making of mobile phones.

FARDC spokesman Hamuli said the defeat at Goma was "understandable" because "we were fighting the Rwandan army".

Experts tasked by the U.N. Security Council have issued reports alleging Rwanda, Congo's small but militarily powerful eastern neighbor, created, trained and equipped M23 and directly supported its capture of Goma.

Rwanda has repeatedly dismissed this as "fiction".

M23 fighters withdrew from Goma on December 1 under a deal mediated by regional states. But there is little confidence inside or outside Congo that the city can resist a fresh M23 assault.

"WE WERE ABANDONED"

Reuters journalists who covered the fighting around Goma in November noted the contrast between M23's well-armed fighters, with crisp uniforms and practical rubber gumboots, and the often rag-tag government soldiers, some shod only in flip flops.

M23 rebels showed reporters the abandoned FARDC barracks in Goma – ramshackle buildings littered with fly-infested garbage, where tall marijuana plants grew among military maize plots.

"You see how the Congolese army lived. What kind of army is this?" Amani Kabasha, M23's deputy spokesman, said.

Nevertheless, observers on the ground still struggle to fully explain the abruptness of the army's collapse at Goma.

The FARDC's flight led to MONUSCO peacekeepers choosing not to go on resisting M23's advance. U.N. chiefs rebuffed intense criticism, saying their men could not back an army that was no longer present on the ground.

"They put up a formidable fight the first day, then for reasons we don't understand, they just stopped fighting, turned their backs and left," said Hiroute Guebre Sellassie, who heads the local office of Congo's U.N. peacekeeping force, MONUSCO.

Congo government spokesman Lambert Mende said the inquiry would probe allegations of racketeering and betrayal among the commanders: "Questions of loyalty have regularly been asked, not just about Amisi," he said. "But there has to be proof."

The FARDC officer who denounced Amisi's role highlighted one incident early in the battle for Goma when he says the general ordered his men to stop fighting after inflicting heavy losses on M23 at Kibumba, 30 km (20 miles) north of the city.

"Suddenly we received the order to stop," the officer said.

"It didn't make sense; it just gave them the chance to regroup and pull together a force that went on to take Goma."

Rejecting the allegations on Amisi's behalf, the member of his entourage in Kinshasa blamed the difficulties of fighting a rebel force that, he alleged, was being supported from beyond the border with Rwanda that runs through Goma's suburbs.

"We didn't have the orders to attack Rwanda, even though we were being fired on from there," the aide to Amisi said.

"You saw the morale of our men – everyone was fleeing pell mell. That's when we realized we couldn't hold Goma."

Despite Rwanda's denials of any backing for M23, a Reuters reporter in Goma during the rebel occupation came across several fighters who did not speak local languages, including one who said: "I am Rwandan, a soldier, we're here to help M23.

"There are lots of us and more are coming every day."

REBELS IN THE RANKS

Amisi is a former commanding officer of many of the M23 fighters. He fought with them in an earlier, Rwandan-backed rebellion as a member of the RCD (Congolese Rally for Democracy) during Congo's 1998-2003 civil war that sucked in neighboring states and in which several million people died.

Independent analysts say he has been under suspicion before.

"This is not the first time Amisi has been accused in undermining the army. There is deep suspicion among officers that he has been a fifth columnist for Rwanda," said Jason Stearns, a Congo expert and author who has written a study of M23 for the Rift Valley Institute's Usalama project.

The integration of rebel and militia fighters into the Congolese army was a major plank of the peace accords that ended the last Congo war. This has meant rebel groups often maintaining command structures – and loyalties – once inside the FARDC. That is the case with M23, which includes Tutsi commanders and fighters who participated in a 2004-2009 rebellion led by Tutsi general and warlord Laurent Nkunda.

M23 commanders like Sultani Makenga and Bosco Ntaganda, who is sought for war crimes by the International Criminal Court, were given high ranks in the army after their re-integration following Nkunda's rebellion. They have now rebelled again.

"While desertion is considered the gravest form of indiscipline in other armies, in the DRC, defected units and commanders have instead regularly been welcomed back into the army – often even rewarded with better opportunities when reintegrated," said Maria Eriksson Baaz, a researcher at the Sweden-based Nordic Africa Institute.

She said this was "very demoralizing" for the troops.

PREDATORS RATHER THAN PROTECTORS

Critics say Kabila has little incentive to improve the national armed forces because a strong military could eventually turn against him.

In April, a report by international and Congolese NGOs said the failure to reform Congo's large and ill-disciplined army had kept much of the civilian population in poverty and insecurity despite billions of dollars of foreign aid for the country.

As a result, more than $14 billion of international aid over 5 years had ended up having "little impact on the average Congolese citizen", the report noted. It faulted international powers for not pushing the government to reform the army.

A little over one percent, or $85 million, of official development aid for the Congo was spent on direct security sector reform between 2006 and 2011, according to the report.

Without reform, Congolese soldiers often act more like predators than protectors and whatever the government probe into allegations of treachery may find, people around Goma remain fearful a cycle of revolt and violence will continue.

Residents in the nearby town of Minova spoke of a three-day rampage of drinking, shooting, stealing and rape by thousands of retreating government troops last month. One local man, Mbogos Simwerayi, recalled: "Everyone suffered with the army here."

The U.N. said on Friday investigations showed FARDC soldiers raped and pillaged in Minova, but it added M23 insurgents also killed civilians and looted when they held Goma.

(Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Janet McBride)
 

Arrêté par l'armée, le Premier ministre malien démissionne
Publisher: Reuters
Author: par Tiemoko Diallo
Story date: 10/12/2012
Language: Français

BAMAKO, 11 décembre (Reuters) – Le Premier ministre du Mali, Cheick Modibo Diarra, a annoncé mardi matin sa démission quelques heures après avoir été arrêté par des soldats à Bamako alors qu'il avait prévu de se rendre en France.

"Moi, Cheick Modibo Diarra, annonce par la présente la démission de la totalité de mon gouvernement ce mardi 11 décembre 2012", a-t-il dit, apparemment nerveux, dans une courte déclaration diffusée par la télévision malienne.

Cet incident politique risque de compliquer les efforts actuellement menés pour rétablir la stabilité dans le pays dont le nord est passé sous le contrôle de groupes islamistes armés après un coup d'Etat militaire le 22 mars à Bamako.

Bakary Mariko, porte-parole des militaires qui ont participé au putsch fomenté par le capitaine Amadou Haya Sanogo, a justifié son arrestation quelques heures plus tôt en déclarant qu'il "ne travaillait plus dans l'intérêt du pays".

"Il a été arrêté alors qu'il essayait de partir pour la France. Le pays est en crise et il bloquait les institutions. Il ne s'agit pas d'un coup d'Etat. Le président est toujours en place mais le Premier ministre ne travaillait plus dans l'intérêt du pays", a déclaré Bakary Mariko.

Diarra s'est prononcé à plusieurs reprises en faveur de l'intervention d'une force internationale dans le nord du Mali et ses relations avec l'armée se sont dégradées, le capitaine Sanogo étant opposé à cette option.

La majorité des militaires estiment avoir seulement besoin d'un soutien financier et logistique pour mener eux-mêmes une opération de reconquête du nord du pays.

INFLUENCES

Le chef du gouvernement a été conduit à Kati, ville de garnison située à l'extérieur de Bamako, qui sert encore de quartier général à l'ancienne junte.

Les militaires maliens, qui avaient renversé en mars le président Amadou Toumani Touré, ont restitué la direction de l'Etat aux civils mais demeurent influents dans la gestion des affaires.

Cet événement risque de compliquer les efforts visant à stabiliser le Mali dont la partie septentrionale est contrôlée par des rebelles touaregs et des groupes islamistes dont certains liés à Al Qaïda entendent y appliquer la loi coranique.

Cette région enclavée et semi-désertique en bordure du Sahara est désormais considérée par les Nations unies comme "l'une des contrées potentiellement les plus explosives au monde".

"L'insécurité devient préoccupante, avec des informations généralisées sur de graves violations des droits de l'homme comme des violences sexuelles, le recrutement d'enfants, la lapidation et la mutilation de suspects", a déclaré le Haut Commissaire des Nations unies aux Réfugiés, Antonio Guterres, devant le Conseil de sécurité.

Selon des habitants de Bamako, la capitale était calme aux premières heures de la journée, mardi.

Ancien ingénieur de la NASA et dirigeant de Microsoft pour l'Afrique, Diarra assurait l'intérim en tant que chef du gouvernement depuis avril lorsque les militaires avaient officiellement restitué le pouvoir.

Gendre de Moussa Traoré, ancien chef putschiste et président de 1968 à 1991, Diarra semblait entretenir de bonnes relations avec les militaires.

Mais, selon les observateurs, des tensions sont apparues au cours des dernières semaines lorsque Diarra, relativement peu expérimenté en politique, a paru vouloir se constituer une base électorale en vue de futurs scrutins.

Des divergences sont également apparues depuis plusieurs mois avec le président intérimaire Dioucounda Traoré.

(avec David Lewis à Dakar; Pierre Sérisier et Henri-Pierre André pour le service français)
 

Mali PM Cheik Modibo Diarra resigns after army arrest
Publisher: BBC News
Story date: 10/12/2012
Language: English

The prime minister of Mali has resigned on state television, hours after being arrested by soldiers who were behind a military coup in March.

Cheik Modibo Diarra was detained on Monday at his home in the capital Bamako, reportedly on the orders of the coup leader Capt Amadou Sanogo.

He had been due to travel to France.

Mr Diarra was made prime minister of an interim government in April after the military officially handed power back to civilians.

But tensions between the soldiers who led the coup and the civilian prime minister they were forced to appoint have been mounting in recent weeks.

'Hope for peace'

In his address, Mr Diarra said: "Men and women who are worried about the future of our nation, you are hoping for peace. It's for this reason that I, Cheikh Modibo Diarra, am resigning along with my entire government."

A member of the president's entourage earlier confirmed reports that the prime minister had been arrested, AFP reports.

The source said soldiers had: "smashed in the door of the prime minister's residence and took him away a bit violently".

"They said Captain Sanogo sent them to arrest him," he added.

Security officials said Mr Diarra was driven to the Kati military camp, a sprawling military base where the 21 March coup was launched.

A spokesman for the group of soldiers, Bakary Mariko, told Reuters that Mr Diarra "wanted to leave the country having incited trouble".

The prime minister had been about to leave the country for France – his reasons for going were unclear, although AFP said he was due to have a medical check-up there.

Mr Diarra, the son-in-law of a former Malian coup leader and president, had been leading a government of national unity.

It was formed in August in an attempt to restore stability following the coup, which allowed Islamists and Tuareg separatists to seize the entire northern half of the country.

The 60-year-old astrophysicist and premier supports plans to send a west African intervention force into the occupied territory to drive out the extremists.

Many within Mali's military are opposed to foreign intervention, saying they need only financial and logistical support.

The United Nations warned on Monday that the north of the country is now "one of the potentially most explosive corners of the world".
 

UN Security Council Has Growing Concerns Over Sahel
Publisher: VOA, Voice of America
Author: Margaret Besheer
Story date: 10/12/2012
Language: English

UNITED NATIONS – The U.N. Security Council has expressed concern that the instability in northern Mali is threatening peace and security in the rest of the Sahel.

At a meeting Monday on the Sahel, the 15-nation Security Council said in a statement there is a need to "respond swiftly" to the crisis through a comprehensive and strategic approach that includes restoring Mali's territorial integrity and preventing further destabilization of other countries in Africa's Sahel region.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the meeting that there is "a sustained, systemic crisis" across the entire region.

"The warning lights for the Sahel region continue to flash. Political turmoil, terrorist activity, drug trafficking and arms smuggling are spilling over borders and threatening peace and security. Extreme climatic conditions and fragile economies only add to this toxic brew of vulnerability," he said.

Ban said the United Nations has mobilized more than $1 billion to help Sahel countries respond to the immediate needs of affected populations – among them the more than 140,000 refugees who have fled instability in Mali after rebels and terrorist groups seized control of the northern part of the country.

Two months ago, the U.N. chief appointed former Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi as his special envoy for the Sahel, tasked with developing and implementing an integrated strategy for the region. That strategy will encompass governance, security, humanitarian, human rights and developmental issues.

Prodi told the Security Council that the Sahel's challenges include high youth unemployment, weak institutions, organized crime and terrorism. On Mali, he said the situation could potentially affect the entire region and that any international intervention must ensure that what has happened in Mali does not spread to all of the Sahel. He also reflected the U.N. secretary-general's cautious stance regarding authorizing an outside military force for Mali.

"Any military force in Mali must be undertaken after careful analysis and through preparation and that this effort could be part of an agreed political process that tackles the root of the conflict," said Prodi.

The West African regional bloc ECOWAS was represented at Monday's meeting by Ivory Coast Foreign Minister Charles Koffi Diby. He urged the council to quickly authorize an African-led force of 3,300 troops to help restore stability to Mali. He spoke through a translator, referring to the mission, which is to be known by the acronym AFISMA.

"We must act urgently and now, because any further delay of the adoption of a resolution authorizing the deployment of AFISMA is likely to strengthen the position of the terrorists, and the price to pay for their removal will be even higher for all of us," said Diby.

France has taken the lead on drafting a resolution authorizing AFISMA's deployment. The French ambassador has said he hopes it will be adopted before the end of this year.
 

UN: Insecurity, climate displace 350,000 people in Sahel region
Publisher: dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur
Story date: 10/12/2012
Language: English

New York (dpa) – Conflicts and climate change have contributed to the creation of 350,000 refugees in the Sahel region this year, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said Monday.

A further 200,000 people are internally displaced in the Sahel, which comprises Algeria, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mauritania, Niger and Togo. The conflict in Mali has forced 140,000 people to flee to neighbouring countries, Antonio Guterres told a UN Security Council meeting on the Sahel region.

"The Mali displacement crisis, which has significant consequences for the wider Sahel region, is a case in point," Guterres said in calling for assistance and legal measures for refugees seeking a new life.

He said insecurity continues to hamper humanitarian assistance and protection of civilians against sexual violence, child recruitment and human rights violations. UNHCR did not provide a breakdown of the number of people affected by insecurity and climate.
 

US, France differ over how to deal with 'explosive' Mali
Publisher: Reuters
Author: By Michelle Nichols
Story date: 10/12/2012
Language: English

UNITED NATIONS, Dec 10 (Reuters) – Northern Mali, plagued by Islamist extremists and gripped by an aid disaster, is "one of the potentially most explosive corners of the world," the United Nations warned on Monday, as the United States and France differed over how to tackle the crisis.

Almost 350,000 Malians have fled their homes, with about 40 percent of those sheltering in neighboring countries, said the United Nations. This has exacerbated a humanitarian crisis in the Sahel – a belt of drought-stricken land spanning nearly a dozen impoverished countries on the southern rim of the Sahara from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea.

"Protection concerns are growing, with widespread reports of serious human rights violations from sexual violence and child recruitment to stoning and mutilations of criminal suspects," U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres told the U.N. Security Council. "Northern Mali ... (is) one of the potentially most explosive corners of the world."

Mali descended into chaos in March when soldiers toppled the president, leaving a power vacuum that enabled Tuareg rebels to seize two-thirds of the country. But Islamist extremists, some allied with al Qaeda, have hijacked the revolt.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon cautiously recommended last month that the Security Council approve an African Union military operation to take back northern Mali, contingent on political, human rights, training and operational benchmarks being met.

France has circulated a draft resolution to approve such a mission, but the United States has countered with a proposal that the operation be split into two missions that would be mandated separately by the 15-member council, diplomats said.

The United States would like the Security Council to first approve a mission focused on training the Malian army and pursuing a political process before then mandating an international military intervention to retake the north of Mali from the extremists, diplomats said.

France, which has seven nationals held hostage in the desert region, opposes the idea of mandating two missions and wants the council to adopt a single resolution this month, diplomats said.

One senior Security Council diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that the United States was "highly skeptical about the way the French want to go" and have strong doubts about whether a military mission could be successful.

"The U.S. was completely unsatisfied with the state of planning by (West African regional body) ECOWAS for the mission; there's little trust in the African troop contributors that they can do the job, and little trust in the Malian army," he said.

"We are at the beginning of a very long and maybe winding and difficult road toward a resolution," the diplomat said.

Diplomats said the United States believes ECOWAS cannot provide appropriately-trained troops to take on the battle-hardened militants in a desert combat zone.

'TOXIC BREW'

ECOWAS has agreed to commit the 3,300 troops for an international force in Mali. The troops would mostly come from Nigeria, Niger and Burkina Faso, but other African countries like Chad may contribute troops as well. The European Union is expected to help with the training.

But Ban did not offer U.N. financial support for an initial combat mission in Mali. The African Union has said it would need "a U.N. support package funded through assessed contributions to ensure sustained and predictable support to the mission."

U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, told the council that the world body must be careful to address the crisis in Mali without destabilizing the entire Sahel region.

Ban's special envoy for the Sahel, former Italian Prime Minister Romani Prodi, told the council that while preparations must be made for a military operation in northern Mali, every effort must be taken to stop the violence and achieve democracy and aid access through peaceful means and negotiations.

"Any military effort in Mali must be undertaken after careful analysis and thorough preparation and that these efforts should be part of an agreed political process that tackles the roots of the conflict," Prodi said. "An extended military action brings always ... not only a humanitarian tragedy but enormous financial costs and an extended period of economic crisis."

Prodi and U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous have said that any military action in northern Mali was unlikely to happen until September or October next year.

The EU is planning to send 200 troops to Mali to help with training. But like the United States and former colonial power France, which is the keenest of Western nations for military action, the EU has ruled out a combat role for itself.

Ban told the Security Council on Monday that the crisis in Mali could not be dealt with without addressing the problems of the Sahel, where about 18.7 million people have been affected by food insecurity this year.

"Political turmoil, terrorist activity, drug trafficking and arms smuggling are spilling over borders and threatening peace and security (in the Sahel)," he said. "Extreme climatic conditions and fragile economies only add to this toxic brew of vulnerability."

The Security Council issued a statement expressing serious concern over the insecurity and humanitarian crisis in the Sahel and condemning rights abuses including executions, hostage-taking, people trafficking and recruitment of child soldiers.

(Editing by Philip Barbara and Cynthia Osterman)
 

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