Amid rumors of rebel groups unifying in Congo, countries in region discuss joint military action
According to documents obtained by guest blogger Jason Stearns, some of Africa's Great Lakes countries are discussing yet another round of military intervention in the eastern part of Congo.
As previously reported here, Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo met in Kigali last week to discuss the military situation in the eastern Congo. At the end of the meeting, they alleged that a new coalition of rebel groups had formed in the Kivus region, including such unlikely allies such as the FPLC, Mai-Mai Sheka, FDLR, Mai-Mai Yakutumba and FDLR-Soki.
The most controversial allegation to come from the meeting was that two Rwandan dissidents, Col. Patrick Karegeya and Gen. Kayumba Nyamwasa, are allegedly involved in this new rebel coalition.
While sources from the eastern Congo certainly confirm sporadic collaboration between the FPLC, Mai-Mai Sheka and the FDLR, the links among the other armed groups and the involvement of the two former Rwandan officers are less clear.
Some sources familiar with the closed-door meeting suggest that the three countries were not just sharing information. Allegedly, new joint military operations on Congolese soil are being discussed. Congo Siasa reported a possible joint operation between the Congolese and Rwandan armies in November, but talk of such a plan subsided as tensions within the CNDP decreased; most importantly, the Congolese government decided not to move ex-CNDP units out of the Kivus, the CNDP political party joined the ruling AMP coalition and some ex-CNDP military ranks were confirmed. The massive recruitment drive that Gen. Bosco Ntaganda had carried out between September and December relented somewhat, although some forced recruitment continues.
Now, Congo Siasa has obtained a copy (available here) of an operational order outlining similar joint operations, dated Dec. 20, 2010. The document, whose authenticity I have not been able to confirm with the Congolese government but which comes from a reputable diplomatic source in Kinshasa, orders the North and South Kivu commanders to each put together a company of 120 well-trained soldiers by Jan. 6. Each company is supposed to consist of 40 percent former soldiers from CNDP and PARECO armed groups, with the rest coming from the regular army. The purpose of the mission: carry out joint military operations. No further details are provided.
It is not clear whether the plan will actually be carried out, and whether this document was indeed signed by Amani Leo commander Gen. Amuli. A military source familiar with the substance of the Kigali confirmed that joint military operations were on the agenda.
The surprising part of this development is that military operations will certainly not be advantageous for President Kabila's public image. It was during the last joint operations that Vital Kamerhe fell out with the president over the deployment of Rwandan troops on Congolese soil. Even if these new deployments – that appear to be quite small, at least on the Congolese side – are kept relatively secret, this is a very delicate subject for the Congolese government during this pre-electoral period.
It is also unclear why a new operation would be launched now. The most obvious reason is that the Rwandan government appears genuinely concerned about a coalition between Gen. Kayumba and rebel groups in the eastern Congo. An international official in South Africa reported to Congo Siasa recently that the South African government was preparing a meeting between Gen. Kayumba and other Rwandan diaspora figures late last year; it is not clear whether the meeting actually took place. Last week, the Rwandan government tried and sentenced Gen. Kayumba and three of his colleagues to long prison sentences in absentia.
It is highly unlikely that the South African government would agree to extradite the former Rwandan officials. The government in Pretoria is still furious over the attempted assassination of Kayumba last year on its soil, allegedly by Rwandan agents. Their ambassador to Kigali was recalled last August and, to the best of my knowledge, has not returned.
Burundi, whose minister of defense participated in the Kigali meeting but is not mentioned in the operational order, is also increasingly concerned about attacks on police, allegedly linked to the re-arming of the FNL rebellion, which is reported to have bases along the border with the Congo on the Rukoko plains.
What would an operation entail? Again, there is little clarity. A diplomat I spoke to in Kinshasa speculated that the governments want to target a small breakaway group of ex-CNDP soldiers loyal to Nkunda and prevent any possible alliance with Gen. Kayumba from congealing.