By: Razanne Chatila
With an estimated 4 million people killed and 2.5 million forced to flee their homes, The Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC) ongoing civil strife in the ease between rebel group M23 and government soldiers has left many fearing-of a potential split of the country.
The DRC, the fourth largest nation in Africa, hosts the largest and most expensive UN peacekeeping mission in history, MONUC (United Nations Mission DR Congo) . The Congo hosts a $1.4 billion a year, 20,000-strong UN force. The eastern region of the DRC has been embroiled in war for the last decade and a half with rebels and government soldier’s alike going on murderous rampages through the forested hills of the North Kivu and South Kivu provinces. The conflicts have been partly triggered by the hostility between the Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups and partly by competition over land, natural resources, mines and large sums of money. The ongoing struggle for power in this region recently seem to have taken a turn.
Many analysis state that this time many things seem different. For one, the M23 rebels are trying to gain the support of the local population by portraying themselves as a peacekeeping power that will finally bring calm and security to the region. For them, the important eastern city of Goma, located near the border of Rwanda, is the bridgehead from which they intended to capture the entire country, and they were partially successful. On Nov. 20, troops walked into the regional capital, home to 1 million people. The fears of a bloodbath were deterred when the national army abandoned the city after four days of skirmishes in the surrounding areas. UN peacekeepers, left over from previous civil wars in the region, were also very limited preventative options. Goma had been taken over by the rebels.
This past Wednesday, Nov. 28, the U.N. Security Council extended an arms embargo against armed groups in Congo in which they strongly condemned the rebel group for attacking civilians believed to be backed by Rwanda. In a resolution adopted unanimously, the council extended sanctions against armed groups in the DRC until Feb. 1, 2014 and said it will consider additional measures against leaders of the M23 rebel group and those providing support to them.With the sudden immense pressure, M23 rebels soon after agreed to a regional peace plan that requires them to withdraw from the strategic eastern towns of Goma and Sake.
Rene Abandi, M23 head of external relations said in an interview in Uganda that the decision had been reached after the rebel’s commander Sultani Makenga met with Uganda’s Chief of Defense Staff, Gen. Aronda Nyakairim this past week. This meeting,, attended by other top military officials ended with agreement of withdrawal within two days.
Abandi then went on to say, “While we plan to withdraw, there is no ceasefire in place…The government is making troop reinforcements in areas close to our current lines; we want a ceasefire. On our part, we are committed to respecting whatever the presidents asked of us,” said Abandi.He continued, “We are withdrawing to a place of tactical importance which we are yet to determine. Certainly we can’t relocate to a river or road.”
In hopes of reaching a ceasefire and subduing the increasing violence, a summit was held last week in the latest in a series of high-level regional meetings, including five extraordinary Heads of State and Government summits in less than four months, designed to help find a lasting solution to the recurrent conflicts in eastern DRC. Tanzania pledged to contribute to a proposed 4,000-strong African neutral force to help disarm the various armed groups in the eastern DRC, while South Africa has offered to provide logistics to the envisioned force.
Seeing an end to the intense violence and ending the thousands of deaths, is surprisingly not garnering much international attention considering how severe the situation really is. In order for the DRC to completely move away from this era of conflict into unity and peace, the international community alongside the people of the DRC needs to come together in order to bring a new horizon that isn’t mangled with politics or racial and ethnic identity.
This post reflects the author’s personal opinions, not the opinions of Arizona Model United Nations.