DRC: Nkunda's forces given another three weeks to join army

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have given fighters loyal to dissident general Laurent Nkunda another three weeks to reintegrate into the national army, a process known as brassage.

Fighting between Nkunda's forces and government troops in the eastern North Kivu province has intensified since September. The violence has forced at least 370,000 civilians in the strife-torn region to flee their homes.

An earlier brassage deadline for Nkunda's forces passed on 15 October as DRC President Joseph Kabila visited Goma, the capital of North Kivu.

"We have given another 21 days to the military personnel taken hostage by this criminal Nkunda to rejoin the army through the integration process and live a normal military life," Defence Minister Chikez Diemu said on 15 October.

"We wish to call on the population during these 21 days to ask their children who are with the insurgents to quit and come and be integrated in the army," he added.

Chikez said more than two battalions of Nkunda's men, about 600 fighters, had expressed a willingness to rejoin the regular army.

According to MONUC, the UN Mission in Congo, the dissident soldiers led by Nkunda number about 5,000.

Chikez said Kabila's presence in the volatile east showed that the government was committed to the reintegration process but he insisted the government would not negotiate with Nkunda.

"Nkunda remains a criminal," he said. "We must catch him and he has to answer for his actions. Rest assured, it won't take much longer."

Pressure for Nkunda to give up his fight also came from the international community.

The government in Kinshasa has issued an arrest warrant for Nkunda, accusing him of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

After meeting Kabila in Goma, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General of the UN in DRC, William Lacy Swing, issued a statement on 16 October urging the dissidents "to join the brassage process, without delay and without conditions".

Swing, who was also speaking on behalf of the ambassadors of Belgium, France, South Africa, the US and UK, went on to call on the Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda (FDLR), a Hutu-dominated armed group that fled Rwanda after the 1994 genocide, "to go home immediately. We call on all actors in the region to behave like good neighbours and support the reconstruction of the DRC,” said Swing.

The Rwandan government has repeatedly denied allegations that it has been supporting Nkunda, who in turn accuses the DRC army of co-opting armed groups from Rwanda (such as the FDLR), Burundi and Uganda into its fight against the dissidents.

Swing also called on the fighters to ensure “total and unrestricted access of humanitarian actors to the vulnerable civilian populations”.

The clashes in North Kivu have made it very difficult for aid workers to deliver humanitarian relief to hundreds of thousands of displaced civilians.

MONUC said more fighting had been reported in the area on 15 October.

The semblance of calm that was there since Wednesday [10 October] has been broken by fighting on Monday [15 October] morning in Rutshuru and Kalengera," Maj Prem Kumar Tiwari, MONUC military spokesman, said.

Nkunda was a member of the largest rebel group, the Congolese Rally for Democracy, which fought the Kinshasa government in a 1998-2002 civil war and subsequently joined a transitional government.

But Nkunda broke with Kinshasa in 2004 and took up arms again, claiming he was fighting to protect the minority Tutsi community from persecution.

Source: IRIN
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