Butembo — While attention has focused on the raging conflict and humanitarian crisis in Kasai in the southern Democratic Republic of Congo, armed opposition groups in the east of the country have stepped up attacks and are threatening to wage all-out war.
Tension and frustration are mounting across Congo as President Joseph Kabila clings to power well after his second and supposedly final term in office expired last year.
Eastern Congo was the main theatre of two devastating civil wars, fought in 1996-1997 and then from 1998 to 2003. It still plays host to dozens of small, armed groups, many of them local “self-defence” militias known as Mai-Mai.
But recent months have seen the emergence of at least two new insurgencies that claim to have increasingly broad support in their shared aim of toppling Kabila.
In June, the National People’s Coalition for the Sovereignty of Congo (CNSPC), led by former national army ally William Yakutumba, began taking on army positions in South Kivu Province. In late September, it attacked the lakeside town of Uvira, using heavy weapons and speedboats, before being beaten back by UN peacekeepers.
Yakutumba has publicly boasted of having 10,000 fighters under his command. While the true number is impossible to establish, analysts suggest it could be fewer than 1,000.
In late September, top army General Didier Etumba described CNSPC as a “flash in the pan” and said: “We’re going to put it out.”
But Delphin Ntanyoma Rukumbuzi, a conflict reseracher and Congo expert at Rotterdam’s Erasmus University, told IRIN that Yakutumba’s force drove the national army out of a fairly large area and resisted counter-attacks, although it is unclear where it is now.
“He has disappeared into thin air with his weapons and fighters, which also raises questions about his plans for the near future,” he said. “Anything is possible, but I think he will need more military tactics, as well as human, financial, and political resources to overthrow the Kabila regime.”
For Rukumbuzi, youths recruited by CNSPC are also more likely to be motivated by chronic marginalisation and historic inter-ethnic rivalries than by any preoccupation with who is in power in distant Kinshasa.
Noting that South Kivu is also home to a range of other armed groups, Rukumbuzi warned: “It is a volatile situation that could set this Great Lakes region alight if it is not contained.”
In neighbouring North Kivu, another group, calling itself the National Movement of Revolutionaries (MNR), has been attacking villages and towns since June.
MNR spokesman John Mahangaiko Apipawe told IRIN the group had been set up in 2015 and spent the next two years discreetly organising and planning its actions.
“At the outset, we couldn’t give out information about our operations for fear of being stillborn. If, today, we are in a position to claim certain actions, it is because we are already strong,” he said.
Speaking on the UN’s Radio Okapi in July, North Kivu Governor Julien Pulaku said recent attacks appeared to be beyond the capabilities of local Mai-Mai groups and that a new rebellion was emerging.
When the Mai-Mai launch attacks, “they only resist the army’s firepower for 30 or 40 minutes. What we are seeing today is that the alleged Mai-Mai are resisting for one or two or three hours and plan attacks on three, four, or five locations within a month. This suggests a supply of munitions and heavy weapons.”
However, government spokesman Lambert Mende told IRIN the attacks claimed by MNR are the work of bandits.
“They are only there to loot people and our natural resources. That’s why we take this opportunity to warn them. Whatever their demands, whatever their origins, whatever internal or external support they have, there is no more time for negotiation,” said Mende.
“Just as we defeated the M23 [rebels in 2013], we will also meet them with arms. Our forces are there for that. Those guilty of crimes will find themselves up against their natural judges.”
But Pulaku, North Kivu governor for 10 years, urged the army to take the new threat more seriously. “We might believe these are only local armed groups, when in fact a major war is going to start,” he warned. src:irinnews.org
The Express News