Congo's army reaches breakthrough with Kivus' rebel group

Congo's national army and the Forces Républicaines Fédéralistes reached a breakthrough in peace negotiations this week, which could improve the situation for civilians in the region.

James Akena/Reuters
A Congolese army soldier uses a monocular to view rebels' positions near the town of Sake, 27km (16 miles) west of Goma, on Dec. 4, 2007.

This past week there was a breakthrough in peace negotiations between the national army and the Forces Républicaines Fédéralistes (FRF), a mostly Banyamulenge armed group based in the High Plateau in South Kivu above Uvira and Fizi.

There have been many rounds of talks, led by different envoys from Kinshasa, since the FRF established themselves in the High Plateau in 2005. The group, led by self-proclaimed Generals Venant Bisogo and Michel Rukunda, has never been a serious military threat, fluctuating between 50 soldiers at the beginning and over 500 at the moment. But Congolese army operations against them have often led to causalities and abuses among both civilians and military and have had a serious impact on the humanitarian situation in the High Plateau. The FRF have also played a role in a complex web of alliances that has included the FDLR, various Mai-Mai groups and young Burundian Tutsi.

If this peace deal holds, it will obviously be a good thing.

Why have talks succeeded this time? It is not entirely clear. The terms appear to be favorable to the Banyamulenge insurgency. Bisogo (previously a colonel in the RCD rebellion) and Rukunda (who I believe was a major, but a stanch critic of Rwanda) will be able to keep their ranks of general and their troops will be integrated into 431st brigade that is deployed in the hills close to where their families are. A key condition of their integration (and that of the CNDP before them) had always been that their troops remain in the Kivus.

Perhaps the largest concession they were able to extract from the government is the departure of General Pacifique Masunzu, the Banyamulenge commander of South Kivu's military region where they are located. Masunzu fell out with FRF and has led the often brutal military operations against them since 2005. In addition, Bisigo would become the second in command of South Kivu's military region and Rukunda (who is also known as Mekanika) would become the operational commander in Uvira.

However, the FRF apparently had to drop their demands for back pay and has agreed to hand over all of their stocks of weapons and ammunition. In addition, the contentious status of Minembwe has been deferred for the moment and it seems unlikely - if the peace deal holds - that it will be brought up again. The FRF, along with many other Banyamulenge, had been pushing for the creation of a territory of Minembwe, so they could have had their own administrative services (land and marriage registry, etc.) and electoral district.

Already, a peace ceremony has been held in Minembwe, and some 500 FRF soldiers are reportedly on their way to integrate with the Congolese army. The soldiers are supposed to be deployed in operations against the FDLR. However, there are fears that this will set a strong precedent for other armed groups, and that they will now also be making similar demands. Nonetheless, there were reports of a sizable demobilization of Mai-Mai Cheka, Kingombe and Kifuafua in Hombo, on the border between North Kivu and South Kivu this past week.

Jason Stearns is an expert on Congo who blogs at Congo Siasa here

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