Karel Prinsloo/AP

Summit Calls for Cease-Fire, Aid Corridors in Congo

November 07, 2008 05:10 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
African leaders discussed an immediate cease-fire, an expanded role for UN peacekeeping forces and the creation of aid corridors for displaced people in the DRC.

African Leaders Discuss Regional Conflict

The leaders present at the summit in Nairobi included Congolese President Joseph Kabila and Rwandan leader Paul Kagame, who discussed ongoing tension over Rwanda's aid to Congolese rebels, and the presence of extremist Rwandan Hutus in the DRC.

At the meeting, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed concern that the conflict could spread throughout the Great Lakes region. Reports indicate that fighting has broken out between Angolans and government troops, in addition to recent fighting near a refugee camp north of the eastern city of Goma in the DRC.

"The recent military offensives by the [Congolese rebels] have radically compounded the situation, led to severe humanitarian consequences and thrust the eastern DRC once more into a phase of heightened crisis. This crisis could engulf the broader sub-region," Ban said, according to The BBC. "As leaders of Africa, you have a historic responsibility, it is a critical moment for the Great Lakes region, and for Africa as a whole. We must put the cycle of violence behind us."

Fighting between rebels and government troops has continued unabated in Eastern DRC since August. The rebel offensive that began last month has displaced tens of thousands of civilians. The DRC government has accused UN peacekeepers of failing to stop rebels from killing civilians. At the summit, Kenyan Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula said the role of the UN peacekeeping mission should be expanded and rebels should be disarmed.

"There should be an immediate cease-fire by all the armed men and militias in North-Kivu," he added. "There should be establishment of a humanitarian corridor throughout the area to ensure immediate address of the humanitarian situation and tragedy."

Congolese rebel leader Laurent Nkunda was not present at the talks, and said that there should have been an inter-Congolese dialogue instead of a regional meeting.

Related Topic: Abuse of Children and Women Continues

Child soldiers in the DRC continue to be recruited and abused, despite a peace agreement. In spite of a January 2008 government and armed group agreement to end human rights abuses in the North Kivu province of the DRC, violence between rebel forces and the government continues unabated. Recent reports from Amnesty International found that for every two child soldiers returned to their families, five more are enlisted. Rampant human rights abuses also continue.

Caught in a tug-of-war between rebels and the government, child soldiers are threatened with death for desertion. If they are discovered by government forces, however, they are often jailed and beaten. Amnesty International has called on the DRC government, the armed groups and the international community to renew their commitment to ending the conflict and abuses.

Andrew Philip, Amnesty International’s expert on the DRC, told The Irish Times that, for child soldiers, “The more they know, the more they are at risk of re-recruitment. In this case, experience can be deadly.”

According to British paper The Guardian, there are approximately 3,000 to 6,000 child soldiers in eastern Congo. At the war’s peak there were 30,000.

Based on UN figures, The Guardian added that approximately 350 Congolese women and girls are raped by members of the warring factions each month, creating a terrifying atmosphere that makes it difficult for citizens to defy these groups. For women in the region, rape is considered a normal part of life. Victims acknowledge that rapists will usually go unpunished, and in the DRC, the crisis has led to an unbridled spread of HIV/AIDS. 

Anneka Van Woudenberg, senior Congo researcher at Human Rights Watch, explained to CBS News how rape is used as a weapon in the Congo. “It is a way to ensure that communities accept the power and authority of that particular armed group. This is about showing terror.”

Background: Congo’s history of violence

In August 2007, the North Kivu region on Congo’s eastern border saw an explosion of violence, considered the worst fighting since the end of the country’s civil war in 2003. Despite a peace agreement brokered in January, the Guardian reports that “UN peacekeepers have been unable to stop the 20,000 government troops and several thousand rebel fighters from brutalising the civilian population.”

Opinion & Analysis: Congo peace process a failure

According to the International Crisis Group (ICG), more than 370,000 civilians have left the North Kivu province since violence reignited between Laurent Nkunda and the national army. The ICG explains, “This new crisis results from failures of the Congo peace process on army integration, economic governance and transitional justice.”

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