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Recent rebel attacks in Congo highlight complexity of protecting civilians

In the volatile eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, rebel attacks highlight the dire need for political, security, and justice reform.

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The civilians’ suffering did not end with the attacks. Because of the remoteness of the area and lack of infrastructure many of the most critically injured civilians remained without medical care for days after the attack. On January 5 The United Nations mission to the Democratic Republic of Congo, MONUSCO, airlifted 13 of the most severely injured victims to the main hospital in the city of Bukavu. Three days later, the mission evacuated another six severely wounded civilians. Seven of the 19 evacuees are children.

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Army spokesman Colonel Sylvain Ekenge noted that though these attacks were the worst in many months, the death toll could still rise. In an attempt to prevent further violence, the Congolese army has been deployed to the area. Colonel Ekenge underscored the severity of the situation, saying,  “It’s very, very serious, to the point that the army is re-enforcing the area.” In addition, MONUSCO has begun aerial monitoring and standing patrols in Lubimbe-II, Katshungu, and Kinglube villages in an effort to increase its presence in the affected areas, and is also coordinating with the national army.

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This tragic loss of life underscores the need to address the issues of dismantling rebel groups and reforming the broader security sector in the region. It also underscores the complexity of the ongoing conflict in the East and inter-relatedness of the issues that drive these actors. Protection of civilians cannot happen without security sector reform; security sector reform cannot happen without justice reform; justice reform cannot happen without political reform; and none of these reforms can take hold in the East until the economic drivers of corruption and conflict are mitigated. 

Ending future attacks is contingent upon a comprehensive approach to dismantling  the remaining rebel groups, particularly the FDLR, the promotion of reliable civilian protection measures, and the meaningful reform of the security sector, including a focus on professionalizing the national Congolese army.

-Anette LaRocco blogs for the Enough Project at Enough Said. Aaron Hall contributed to this post.

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