Peace in DRC Means Addressing Root Causes Behind Militias, Say Rights Groups

Leaders of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda meeting in Angola this week agreed to ease tensions and normalize diplomatic relations. The DRC has accused Rwanda of supporting resurgent M23 rebels, who in June seized a border town from the military.

Rights groups and analysts have welcomed the detente but say a lasting peace means addressing root causes of militias in the DRC.

Twizeere Bastiste is a livestock farmer in the eastern DRC. He said he fled his village last week to a camp at Rutshuru in North Kivu province after M23 rebels attacked while his animals were grazing. Two of his brothers were killed.

He said his livestock was stolen and his house was demolished. He asked for an end to the war so people can go back to their homes and to end people’s suffering in the camps.

At least 1.9 million civilians have been displaced in North Kivu this year, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

Dozens have been killed since the M23 rebel group resurfaced after a fragile, nearly decade-long ceasefire. They began a major offensive in Congo’s eastern borderlands in March.

The re-emergence of M23 is stirring a political rivalry between Congo and Rwanda. Kinshasa accuses Kigali of supporting M23 to destabilize the country, an allegation Rwanda denies.

Officials from the two countries agreed Wednesday to de-escalate tensions from the rebel insurgency, but barely a day later, on Thursday, fresh clashes broke out between the military and M23 rebels.

Right groups say peace cannot be achieved unless both sides address root causes of the conflict, such as lack of accountability for atrocities.

“Justice is not on the agenda,” said Jean Mobert, Amnesty International’s research on Congo. “As long as those who have committed serious crimes in the DRC in the last decades feel like they can continue to kill, to rape, to loot without consequences, this is just going to continue.”

Macharia Munene, an analyst on international relations in Kenya, told VOA that despite the efforts to achieve peace in eastern Congo, mistrust between leaders of the DRC and its eastern neighbors, Rwanda and Uganda, is a major obstacle.

“First of all, reduce the suspicions among key leaders in order to be able to agree on how to deal with M23,” Munene said, “because as long as they are quarreling and disagreeing, the likelihood of having a common approach is very difficult and very hard.”

The M23 militia are currently pursuing their biggest offensive in several years.

Congo has accepted a proposal for an East African regional force to be deployed to the volatile provinces of Ituri, North Kivu and South Kivu — on the condition that Rwanda does not take part.

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