DRC: What will stop the fighting?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A pledge by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to complement UN peacekeeping forces in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) with SADC soldiers does not take account of the regional body's limited military capacity, a military analyst told IRIN.

After an extraordinary heads-of-state summit in Johannesburg, South Africa, on 9 November, called to address Zimbabwe's political impasse and DRC's rapidly deteriorating humanitarian crisis, SADC Executive Secretary-General Tomaz Salomoa told reporters that "SADC should immediately provide assistance to the armed forces of DRC", because "The security situation in DRC is affecting peace and stability in the SADC and Great Lakes region."

A SADC team of military experts was to deploy "immediately" to the region.

Henri Boshoff, military analyst at the South African-based think-tank, Institute for Security Studies, told IRIN that stopping the fighting between the Congolese army and rebel leader Laurent Nkunda required the deployment of "a credible military force", or that MONUC "changed its posture" and aggressively implemented its Chapter 7 (of the UN Charter) mandate, which allows for peace enforcement.

He said SADC did not have the military capacity as yet for robust action, and it was difficult to see where the troops would come from at such short notice.

South Africa's overstretched military already has peacekeeping troops in the DRC, and the use of Angolan, Namibian and Zimbabwean soldiers would "bring with it the baggage" of the 1998-2003 conflict, in which the three countries supported the Kinshasa government against Rwandan- and Ugandan-backed rebels.


SADC's intervention, at the urging of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, saved the DRC's late President Laurent Desire Kabila from defeat, but bogged down Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe in a drawn-out war that cost an estimated three million civilian lives.

Nkunda, a Tutsi from the Kivu region of eastern DRC, joined the armed groups opposed to Kabila, who had turned against the Rwandan and Ugandan governments that had helped put him in power.

At the end of the war in 2003 he and his troops were integrated into the new national army, but rebelled after accusing the government of supporting Hutu militia responsible for attacks against the Tutsi minority in North and South Kivu provinces.

Nkunda is alleged to still enjoy the backing of Rwandan President Paul Kagame; his National Congress for the Defence of the People is regarded as a better fighting force than the Congolese army, and they have battled their way towards the North Kivu provincial capital of Goma.

The fighting, despite the presence of the UN peacekeeping mission, MONUC, has killed several hundred civilians and combatants, displaced more than 250,000 people - many for the second or third time in the last few years - and created an increasingly desperate humanitarian situation.

Boshoff said part of the reason why MONUC - trying to operate in a huge region - could not more aggressively implement its mandate was a matter of "interpretation" by some of the governments that had contributed to the 17,000-strong force on how their soldiers should be deployed.

He commented that a European Union Battle Group, a self-sufficient military force with a minimum of 1,500 soldiers, could be deployed in the region in seven days, but member countries of the EU were divided on the issue. The EU has the military priority of Afghanistan, and there is an unwillingness to get involved in a "protracted war" in the eastern Congo.