Innocent Balemba

Mutiny, rebellion or a new occupation by foreign forces of eastern 
Congo? This is the question that analysts of the Great Lakes region 
continuously ask themselves.

On 26 May 2004, the city of Bukavu did not sleep, but awoke to 
gunshots. Over the following two weeks the city and surrounding areas 
became the theatre of very violent fighting between regular armed 
forces and forces of the dissidents of the 10th military region 
commanded by Colonel Jules Mutebusi. Mutebusi was suspended in April by 
the Congolese military hierarchy and supported by 3-4 battalions led by 
another former officer of the Congolese Rally for Democracy 
(Rassemblement Congolais pour la Démocratie - RCD), General Lauraent 

These events, which killed about one hundred people and wounded many 
others, and led to the fall of Bukavu into rebel hands on 2 June, were 
reminiscent of the Kabila epic of October 1996, and that of the RCD in 
August 1998. This story resembles past events, but does it repeat them?

It resembles them because of the similarity of the context: several 
Congolese dissidents, the military and logistical support of Rwanda, 
followed by the rapid capture of Congolese cities without resistance 
and Rwanda denying its involvement.

The events in Bukavu and its surrounding areas were accompanied by a 
series of grave human rights abuses and war crimes. Besides the 
killings, there was systematic rape of women, children, even babies. 
The organisation Human Rights Watch documented dozens of cases of rape, 
including four three-year old girls. The question that many people 
forget to ask themselves is why is history repeating itself? Why has 
the Congo seemingly not learnt its lessons from past events?

It was 2 August 1998 when an armed group called the RCD, supported by 
Rwanda, took the city of Bukavu. It started with the execution of 
dozens of military people loyal to Kinshasa at the Kavumu aerodrome and 
the group then continued quickly on to Goma, then Kisangani, then 
Kindu, etc while other columns attacked the Inga roadblock and occupied 
the Kitona military base, in Bas-Congo province. They created their 
headquarters in Goma.

The government of Laurent Kabila, which had not yet succeeded in 
setting up an army during its 13-month reign, was on the verge of 
falling and called upon Angola, then Namibia, Chad and Zimbabwe.

In the following months, Jean Pierre Bemba declared another rebellion 
in the North - the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (le Mouvement 
pour la libération du Congo - MLC) - with the support of Uganda.

Internal difficulties led the RCD president Ernest Wamba dia Wamba and 
the former president of the RCD 'assembly' Mbusa Nyamwisi to create the 
RCD-Kisangani (which later became the RCD-ML), based in Kisangani, also 
with Ugandan support.

The methods of the belligerents were simple: killings, destruction, 
torture and rape.

It was over the next four years that probably the most devastating war 
for humanity would continue. It involved the governmental forces 
supported by Zimbabwe, Namibia, Angola and Chad; the RCD supported by 
Rwanda and Burundi; and the RCD-ML and the MLC supported by Uganda.

This long war, which some analysts called the "African World War" 
caused more than three million deaths and more than two million 
refugees and internally displaced people. Systematic massacres were 
committed in villages such as Mkaobola, Kasika, Burhinyi, Shabunda and 
Kisangani. In some places, these massacres bordered on genocide. In 
Kasika, for example, RCD troops supported by Rwanda decimated 
approximately 1500 civilians, that is almost 10% of the members of the 
Banyindu ethnic group, at 18,000 people, one of the smallest of the 300 
ethnic groups in Congo. The RCD's efforts eliminated customary chiefs, 
religious leaders, human rights activists, etc. The people responsible 
for some of these crimes are known and their abuses documented, but 
they have never been punished.

The MLC committed massive human rights violations and crimes against 
humanity, including cannibalism against the Mbuti (pygmy) groups in the 
Mambasa district of Eastern Province. The RCD-ML, the armed resistance 
Mai-Mai (or Mayi-Mayi) as well as other armed groups also all committed 
several human rights abuses, such as rape, killings, pillage, etc.

In addition to these violations, the belligerents engaged in economic 
exploitation of Congo's riches: wood and minerals. The fauna was also 
systematically destroyed. Forced labour was used to the profit of armed 

On 22 July 2002 in Pretoria, the parties to the conflict signed peace 
accords, which paved the way for the end of this devastating war. The 
agreement allowed for power sharing amongst the different factions, 
offering positions of responsibility in the new transitional 
institutions, curiously in relation to the level of involvement in 
crimes, implying that crimes can pay. When the transitional 
institutions were put in place in Kinshasa, the RCD, MLC, RCD-ML, 
Mayi-Mayi, non-armed political opposition and civil society shared 
power. Besides the civil society and the non-armed political 
opposition, one could talk of power sharing amongst criminals.

However, a group of largely Rwandophone officers in eastern Congo, as 
well as certain nominated parliamentarians and senators refused to join 
the transitional institutions in Kinshasa, despite the efforts of the 
new government. They established themselves in the city of Goma, 
capital of the province of North Kivu bordering Rwanda, where the 
governor, Eugene Serufuli had already allegedly set up a militia under 
the cover of the organisation called "All for Peace and Development" 
(Tous pour la paix et le dévéloppement - TPD). Neither the RCD nor the 
government seemed to have full control over the governor of Goma or the 
group of officers in question. These officers had something in common: 
blood on their hands and impunity.

The events of May and June 2004 benefited from disorder: an army not 
yet unified and consequently no unified command of the eastern region; 
the absence of a legitimate territorial administration; massive human 
rights violations; and generalised insecurity in the eastern part of 
the country.

These officers seemed to have profited from the situation to organise 
themselves. Significant stores of arms were found in the possession of 
the officers and security agents close to the RCD in February 2004. The 
next month, Colonel Mutebusi, then second commander of the 10th 
military region (South Kivu), led a mutiny against the head commander, 
General Prosper Nyabiolwa, for having arrested and transferred to 
Kinshasa Major Kasongo for indiscipline. The General escaped and fled 
to Kinshasa, while three of his bodyguards were killed, allegedly by 
Mutebusi's men.

The RCD, which has always been supposed to administer this part of 
Congo while awaiting the establishment of a new territorial 
administration, came to the defence of the mutineers and threatened to 
leave the transitional government if Major Kasongo was not freed, thus 
forcing the government's hand. Investigation of the arms cache was 
never pursued. Mutebusi was suspended but never punished. Impunity!

Following this, Mutebsi started another mutiny on 26 May 2004. He 
attacked the positions of the regular army and the situation 
degenerated until the intervention of the United Nations Peacekeeping 
Mission (MONUC). The city of Bukavu was divided in two (Mutebusi 
controlled the part bordering Rwanda and the regular army controlled 
the rest of the city) for a week.

But, from Goma, General Laurent Nkunda headed towards Bukavu with his 2 
000 men to reinforce Mutebsi. He is believed to have been supported by 
troops from the Rwandan army. He raised the spectre of genocide against 
the Banyamulenge in Bukavu, a thesis which he later rejected when 
retreating. This argument was also rejected by MONUC, human rights 
organisations based in the region, the Banyamulenge organisation 
"Shikama", Commander Masunzu - a Munyamulenge leading an armed group in 
the high plains of Itombwe.

There were, however, serious human rights violations committed on all 
sides. Civilians were killed and rape appeared to be systematically 
used by the mutineers as a weapon of war. In the IDAP, Muhungu, 
Ndendere and Bugabo areas, door-to-door rape was practiced, leading 
some to believe it was a punitive action by the mutineers.

When, on 2 June, Laurent Nkunda took the city, two new groups appeared, 
who allied themselves with the two opposing parties. Mr Odilon 
Kurhengamuzinmu, commander of the militia called Mudundu 40 (M40), 
which during the last three years had changed alliance between Kinshasa 
and Rwanda on several occasions, this time associated himself with 
Mutebusi. A dissident faction of M40 led by Foka Mike allied itself 
with the regular army.

Under the occupation of the mutineers from 2 to 8 June 2004, the city 
of Bukavu was the scene of flagrant human rights violations. In 
addition to approximately 100 dead, the local organisation "Justice for 
all" (Justice pour tous) has compiled a non-exhaustive list of 617 
women and girls raped, 18 stores pillaged, 254 people wounded by 
bullets, 60 vehicles stolen, 12 depots of manufactured goods and food 
stores pillaged and the Cooperative of business people (Coopérative 
d'hommes d'affaires - COOPERA) burnt. The central bank and commercial 
bank were looted of all their reserves by the mutineers.

Rwanda's involvement in support of the mutineers in terms of soldiers 
and arms has been reported by the local organisation "Heirs of justice" 
(Heritiers de la justice), the Congolese transition support committee 
(Comite d'accompagnement de la transition congolaise - CIAT), largely 
composed of representatives of the G8 countries, and a coalition of 
Belgian NGOs.

The Rwandan government denies its involvement, reminiscent of its 
denials in 1996 and 1998 that Rwanda was not in Congo, even while its 
troops fought beside Kabila's Alliance of democratic forces (Alliances 
des forces democratiques - AFDL) and the RCD, respectively.

Following diplomatic pressure, Rwanda, which had hosted some 3000 
refugees in May and June, closed its border with Congo. Bukavu was 
retaken by the regular army on 9 June 2004, leaving Mutebusi and his 
ally M40 to occupy the town of Kamanyola and a part of Luvungi and 
Bwegere, close to the Rwandan border in the Ruzizi plains, some 60 
kilometres south of Bukavu.

Fighting continues in various parts of the South Kivu region, boding 
ill for a possible stagnation or breakdown of the fragile peace process 
in the country.

The impunity of those responsible for crimes committed in eastern Congo 
over the past 6 years seem to be the determining factor in the 
continuation of abuses against civilian populations. Those who have 
never heard of war crimes include troops under the command of the 
infamous: Major Bora Uzima in South Kivu; Gabrial Amisi, alias "Tango 
Fort" (currently in the regular army) in Uvira, Kasika and Fizi; 
Laurent Nkaudna who was behind the massacres in Kisangani; Jules 
Mutebusi who was responsible for the bombing of the Banyamulenge; 
Thierry Ilunga (currently in the regular army) in Mwenga, etc.

These officers are currently either peacefully reintegrated into the 
regular army (Amisi and Ilunga) or are currently in leadership 
positions in eastern Congo and implicated in the current war in South 
Kivu. None of them have ever been sanctioned or punished for their 
responsibility in these crimes.

The system in place in Congo, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, 
established on the South African model, seems to pave the way for the 
continuation of impunity.

The option to cover up and leave unpunished war crimes and crimes 
against humanity such as the systematic rape of three-year-old girls; 
the indiscriminate bombing of civilian Banyamulenge populations by 
Rwandan helicopters; the massacre of civilians in Kisangani, Kasika, 
Makobola, Burhinyi, etc; the cannibalism against Pygmy communities in 
the Eastern Province: Is this the way forward for the Congolese state 
to re-establish itself?

In my opinion, this will only sow the seeds of an even more 
catastrophic socio-political situation in eastern Congo.

* Innocent Bulemba works for Amnesty International. This article was 
written in his personal capacity.


* Please send comments to editor@pambazuka.org


 "This article first appeared in Pambazuka News, an electronic newsletter for social justice 
in Africa, www.pambazuka.org".