Tutsi Rebels integration to army falters in beginning
Plans to integrate Tutsi rebels into Congo's army faltered before they could begin.
Plans to integrate Tutsi rebels into Congo's army faltered before they could begin on Wednesday, underlining the challenges facing efforts to pacify the east despite renewed Congo-Rwanda cooperation.
The eastern Congolese Tutsi rebels are meant to end a five year rebellion and join the army to take part in operations with Rwandan forces currently in Congo hunting Hutu rebels, who have been at the heart of 15 years of war in Africa's Great Lakes.
But the Tutsi rebels and Western diplomats abandoned a planned launch ceremony on Wednesday amid delays and confusion, underscoring uncertainty about a deal that the International Crisis Group (ICG) think-tank says risks escalating violence without resolving long-term problems in the region.
By early afternoon all the hundred or so men from the Tutsi rebel National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) who turned up had boarded trucks and left Rumangabo military camp in North Kivu, an eastern province in near permanent crisis.
Stacks of plastic chairs and a makeshift grandstand remained unused and European diplomats left the Belgian colonial-era camp, 45 km (28 miles) north of the provincial capital Goma.
"It will not happen today, that is certain. It has been pushed back to a date to be announced," said Captain Olivier Hamuli, spokesman for Congo's army in North Kivu.
No explanation was given for the cancellation. Military sources said some CNDP officers were discussing the process with the army while others met separately in rebel strongholds.
Splits have emerged within the CNDP in recent weeks.
Military commander Bosco Ntaganda said earlier this month he had overthrown founder Laurent Nkunda and was ready for peace.
Nkunda was subsequently arrested by Rwanda but it is not clear how much of the 4,000-strong rebellion backs Ntaganda.
Previous efforts to end the CNDP rebellion have also attempted to integrate soldiers at Rumangabo, but peace initiatives have repeatedly failed. Late last year the CNDP marched to the gates of Goma, prompting a new wave of mediation.
A deal forged out of dramatically improved relations between Rwanda and Congo has raised hopes. The long-time enemies have fought several wars and, until late last year, were accusing each other of backing the other's rebels.
Dangers and opportunities
In return for ensuring Nkunda's arrest, Rwanda has been allowed to send an estimated 7,000 soldiers back into eastern Congo to hunt down the Rwandan Hutu Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) rebels, analysts say.
Congo has said the joint force has killed 13 rebels so far.
Some of the Hutu force took part in Rwanda's 1994 genocide and were then followed into Congo by Kigali's Tutsi-led army, sparking two wars that only ended in 2003 when foreign armies withdrew, paving the way for national elections in 2006.
"The deal in its current form carries as many dangers as opportunities," Crisis Group said in a statement late on Tuesday.
The Brussels-based organisation called on Congo and Rwanda to suspend the operations until their objectives were clarified, United Nations peacekeepers were involved and more comprehensive plans to protect civilians and disarm the FDLR were in place.
"Clear benchmarks have to be established for withdrawal of the Rwandan troops, as well as precise objectives to determine when the operation has succeeded or failed and needs to be stopped," ICG said.
Rwanda's intervention is controversial as Kigali has been accused on numerous times of plundering Congo's forests and gold, diamond and coltan mines during previous incursions, also under the pretext of hunting anti-Kigali Hutu rebels.
Concerns for civilians are high since over 600 people have been killed after Congo allowed Uganda to launch strikes against Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebels to the north in December.
Reuters Last Mod: 28 Ocak 2009, 18:30