- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 9, 2004

BUKAVU, Congo — The fall last week of this important town in eastern Congo to renegade soldiers underscores how a year-old peace agreement has few friends and a lot of enemies, say Congolese observers and Western diplomats in the region.

Last week’s events at the southern tip of Lake Kivu spiraled into chaos as soldiers quartered in the town mutinied against government troops, and a few days later another group of armed renegades marched in from the north, seized Bukavu and went into an orgy of pillage, rape and murder.

Under pressure from the United Nations and the Congolese government in Kinshasa, the men began leaving Bukavu this week.

Yesterday, troops loyal to President Joseph Kabila reoccupied the town to the cheers of inhabitants, but the insurgent leaders appeared to have departed unpunished and Congo’s army remains as divided as ever.

“I can’t say anything has been accomplished, but for the moment nothing is going wrong,” said Louis Michel, foreign minister of Belgium, Congo’s former colonial master, who jetted to several regional capitals seeking to rescue the unraveling peace.

In July, Mr. Kabila and the rebel groups that control parts of eastern Congo signed an accord that was supposed to end Congo’s five-year civil war. The conflict, which caused more than 3 million deaths by combat, starvation and disease, began in 1998 as Rwanda and its rebel allies sought to overthrow Mr. Kabila’s father, Laurent Kabila, who ousted longtime dictator Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997.

The Second Congo War, also known as “Africa’s First World War,” drew in the armies of a half-dozen other countries on the continent.

Laurent Kabila was killed at the presidential palace in Kinshasa during an apparent coup attempt in January 2001. He was succeeded as president by his son Joseph, then 29.

Last year’s peace agreement created an unwieldy government in which Mr. Kabila presides over four vice presidents. One comes from the Rally for Congolese Democracy, the main, Rwanda-backed rebel group. The others are drawn from other rebel groups and the political opposition in Kinshasa. Dozens of ministries, some new, were distributed to senior government and rebel officials, as were hundreds of seats in a new parliament.

This transitional government is supposed to wind down any remaining hostilities and hold elections late next year, paving the way for Congo’s first democratically elected government since independence in 1960.

As the violence in Bukavu escalated last week, European, American and South African officials who helped broker the peace scrambled to persuade Congolese factions to reaffirm the deal they signed.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell called Mr. Kabila to dissuade Kinshasa from responding with force, and Rwandan President Paul Kagame to urge him to keep Rwandan forces out of the fighting, diplomatic sources said.

The violent flare-up in Bukavu, Congolese and U.N. officials said, exposed the failure of the transition government to integrate the warring factions into a single national army and underlined the ill will among the various groups.

No side in the conflict has adhered to the agreement, keeping the army divided into government and rebel factions. For many Congolese, more battles like the one in Bukavu seem inevitable.

“You leave soldiers out there with weapons, and you don’t pay them,” the head of Bukavu’s chamber of commerce, Chubagala Chinja, had said before the latest bloodshed. “What do you think is going to happen?”

As long ago as September, Mr. Kabila’s military chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Liwanga Mata Nyamunyobo, summoned several military officers to Kinshasa for refusing to assume posts to which they had been appointed — including Brig. Gen. Laurent Nkunda, who remained in Goma, a former rebel stronghold near the Rwandan border.

Gen. Nkunda, like many senior figures in the Rally for Congolese Democracy party (RCD), is a Banyamulenge — a tribe often called Congolese Tutsis because of their linguistic and other ties to the Tutsis of Rwanda, who now dominate that country but were targeted for extermination by the rival Hutus in the Rwandan genocide of a decade ago.

When another dissident officer began fighting in Bukavu with troops loyal to Kinshasa two weeks ago, Gen. Nkunda marched on Bukavu to save Banyamulenge there from a “genocide.”

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher denied claims of an extermination campaign in eastern Congo.

“Suggestions that a genocide or mass killing of Congolese Tutsis has taken place are irresponsible and unnecessarily inflammatory,” Mr. Boucher said after the capture of Bukavu by Gen. Nkunda’s renegade soldiers.

Nevertheless, the heavy presence of Banyamulenge among Gen. Nkunda’s troops led Mr. Kabila to take a bellicose tone toward his eastern neighbor.

“Once again, Rwanda has made it clear that it does not want peace,” Mr. Kabila told the British Broadcasting Corp.

Rwanda has denied interfering in Congo.

But Mr. Kabila, Western diplomats say, regrets the compromises that gave the RCD the defense ministry and other senior military posts. He also has built up the presidential security force to 7,000 well-equipped troops that he alone controls.

The RCD, Congolese say, turned to violence again because of its failure to convert from a rebel army into a political party, which it now claims to be. The RCD’s long-standing ties to Rwanda has made it perhaps the most hated faction in Congo, and few Congolese give it much of a chance in free elections.

“The RCD never really convinced anyone here,” said the Rev. Joseph Gwamuhanya, a priest in Bukavu and member of the new Congolese parliament.

The RCD’s political weakness made its officers, among them Gen. Nkunda, reluctant to accept assignments from Kinshasa that would take them outside the territories they controlled as rebels, and away from the troops loyal to them.

Many Congolese feared Gen. Nkunda’s attack on Bukavu was the start of a “third Congo War,” in which renegade RCD members would try to carve out a separate state between Congo and Rwanda and end their allegiance to Kinshasa. But Congolese sources said the behavior of his troops after taking Bukavu might have alienated like-minded RCD members, and forced his withdrawal.

RCD member Azerias Ruberwa, who became a vice president under the power-sharing agreement, spent much of the Bukavu crisis holed up in Goma with other party leaders and either declined or failed to restrain Gen. Nkunda from taking the town.

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