Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which goes to the polls in September 2011 to elect its president, is now faced with a new rebel group made up of disgruntled soldiers, who were demobilized without benefits, and now unleash mayhem in the Equateur province- DR Congo’s poorest region. While DRC President Kabila insists on UN peacekeeping force withdrawal, U.N. chief for humanitarian affairs, John Holmes has warned of an imminent danger.
The rise of this new rebellion comes in a period when the UN peacekeeping mission is preparing to leave DR Congo.
Reports indicate that the new group, which calls itself Nzobo Yalobo, meaning: “new military groups” in the Lingala language — with the plural suggesting a variety of different parties involved, — has fed off of grievances about Equateur province being marginalized since its most famous son, former dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, was ousted in 1997 by a rebellion that splintered the country among various warlords.
The new rebel group led by an exiled witchdoctor, Ibrahim Mangbama, is also called the Independent Liberation Movement of the Allies, and its members are ex-military men loyal to Jean-Pierre Bemba, a warlord originally from Equateur province, who is now facing trial at the International Criminal Court. According to human rights, the rebellion intensified in Equateur following arrests and detentions of people associated with Bemba.
Experts say the conflict in Equateur province- the latest unrest to shake Congo, whose people suffered through back-to-back civil wars from 1996-2002, began as a localized intertribal conflict in a decades-old disagreement over fishing rights. According to the United Nations, 100 people have been killed and some 200,000 others have been forced from their homes in the past six months.
Last month ago, this new rebel group in Equateur attacked the provincial capital of Mbandaka, defeating a small force of U.N. peacekeepers guarding the airport and overcoming scores of Congolese army troops to claim the main administrative compound, the governor’s office and the governor’s residence. The group was eventually defeated by government troops backed by U.N. peacekeepers.
This tension has however led to the formation of a rebel group; adding to the troubles of DR Congo, and it’s President Joseph Kabila.
While President Kabila insists that U.N. troops withdraw before the September 2011 presidential election, U.N. chief for humanitarian affairs, John Holmes, warned in an interview with The Associated Press that the premature withdrawal of the U.N. peacekeeping forces could worsen the situation in Congo.
“If you withdraw that element of stability that is MONUC then other conflicts contained by the presence of MONUC may get out of control and you could find yourself in a much more dangerous situation,” Holmes was quoted as saying.
The crisis is DR Congo is not over; civilians in eastern Congo still face regular attacks from militia groups including Rwandan Hutus who perpetrated that country’s 1994 genocide. In DR Congo’s northeast, the vicious Lord’s Resistance Army’s more than 20-year insurgency in Uganda has spilled across the border and continues to spread horror.
Human rights groups blame the LRA for massacres during which victims were hacked to death with machetes and children were forced to kill other children. The U.N. reports at least 8,300 rapes were committed against women in eastern Congo last year, averaging 160 rapes a week.
Congolese Information Minister Lambert Mende said that at least one provincial legislator and two national legislators are believed to have sponsored the rebels. But Mende said the rebels’ motivations remain unclear and he accused the media of sensationalizing the unrest.
Congo’s military have said the situation in Equateur province is under control, but analysts say the Congolese army is downplaying the implications of attacks that have stretched the resources of the largest and most expensive U.N. peacekeeping mission in the world.
Meanwhile, the Congolese branch of the African Association of Human Rights have accused DR Congo’s president, Joseph Kabila of causing the local frustration that has mounted in Equateur province and resulted in the formation of the new rebel group.
The rights group accuses President Joseph Kabila’s political coalition of contributing to the destabilization of Equateur province by condoning a corrupt local administration and legitimizing local officials whom the group says came to power illegally in much-disputed elections.