The Guardian has published a gallery of photos chronicling the ongoing insurgency in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
Child soldiers from the Mai-Mai militia guard the headquarters of their
leader in Kisharu, Democratic Republic of Congo.
Photograph: Nicolas Postal/EPA
The main Tutsi militia leader in eastern Congo, Laurent Nkunda,
gestures at his mountain base, in Kachanga
Photograph: Lionel Healing/AFP
Fighters of the notorious Mai-Mai militia, another of eastern Congo’s
many combatant forces, guard the headquarters of their leader General
Kassereka in Kisharu, 100km north of the Congolese city of Goma
Photograph: Nicolas Postal
See all 11 images on The Guardian web site here.
The following is the executive summary of a recent International Crisis Group report, entitled Congo: Four Priorities for Sustainable Peace in Ituri, on the current situation in the north-eastern DRC. The Ituri district lies immediately to the north of the Nord-Kivu district in which Nkunda’s militia and Kassereka’s Mai-Mai forces continue to operate.
The risk of renewed violence in Ituri is limited today by the presence of the UN Mission in the Congo (MONUC), the dismantling of the majority of armed groups and the local population’s war weariness after years of suffering and destruction. To ensure lasting stabilisation, however, it is essential to tackle simultaneously the conflict’s root causes and abandon purely reactive or short-term approaches. Those root causes persist, including unequal access to land and unfair sharing of revenues from exploitation of natural resources. As local elections in 2009 approach, the absence of inter-community reconciliation and persistence of impunity for the majority of crimes committed during the war are also extremely worrying. To prevent new violence, which would affect women particularly, an integrated peacebuilding strategy has to be implemented, involving national and provincial institutions and with the active support of MONUC and donors.
Disarmament of the remaining armed groups and the recovery of the many weapons held in the different communities will not be achieved by force or by simply co-opting community leaders into national institutions. It has to be accompanied by establishing at least minimal trust between the local communities and the administration through sensitisation efforts and sustained investment in building better local governance capacity in advance of the district’s elevation to province status in 2009. Another key element in creating this trust is the replacement in pacified zones of the Democratic Republic of the Congo Armed Forces (FARDC), which continue to be responsible for numerous human rights violations, by the national police force.
Beyond the issue of disarmament and restoration of state authority, and in view of the risk that the local elections could trigger renewed violence, three further major challenges have to be addressed simultaneously in the district. Land-related tensions that were at the origin of the conflict have not been eased and constantly threaten to lead to new inter-ethnic confrontations. With the return of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) to their homes and the resumption of economic activity, a resurgence of those tensions seems inevitable. It is, therefore, indispensable to take preventive measures on the ground and to clarify the judicial muddle linked to land law and the status of chieftainships.
Another risk for the district is the absence of transparency and justice in the management of natural resources and mining. While nepotism continues to plague local politics, the uneven, opaque distribution of revenues from exploitation of gold, collection of customs fees and, even more so, extraction of oil at Lake Albert risks causing renewed tensions. It is critical to the peace process to establish a framework for transparent management of Ituri’s resources, to dismantle local mafia networks that extract resources from mining and forestry and to manage the expectations raised by the discovery of oil at Lake Albert.
Finally, inter-community reconciliation remains superficial, and local justice mechanisms are incapable of combating impunity effectively. If Ituri is to have a real chance of turning the page from a devastating war that has lasted for almost a decade, it is essential, therefore, that the International Criminal Court (ICC) continues its investigations, mixed (international/national) judicial chambers are established and a truth and reconciliation commission created.
The international community has worked hard to achieve the disarmament of armed groups and has to a large extent taken the lead in the political and military process that has allowed for their progressive surrender during the transition process. Today, the success of Congo’s reconstruction hinges on Ituri, a district that has too often been ignored by Kinshasa. A voluntary and integrated approach is required that reunites national and regional institutions and international partners in order to consolidate peace there. Otherwise, the return of chaos is likely, which would signify the failure of a peace process that has so far mostly been to the advantage of warlords and has failed to bring true benefit to the victims of the conflict.