The Democratic Republic of Congo moved a step closer to the brink of outright war last week when Laurent Nkunda announced that his army, the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), is officially withdrawing from the Goma accords signed just ten months ago.
“…we are going to fight this [Congolese] government until we will be free forever,” said Nkunda in a letter to the head of the UN mission in Congo in which he demanded negotiations while confirming that he had decided to ignore the peace agreement he signed in January.
Nkunda’s announcement follows weeks of increasingly-destructive clashes between the CNDP and DRC government forces (FARDC) in the eastern provinces. Nkunda rejected a UN appeal for a renewal of the ceasefire two weeks ago. The scenario is nearly identical to the civil strife depicted in Heart of Diamonds.
While Nkunda’s announced intention is to overthrow Joseph Kabila’s democratically elected government while somehow protecting the ethnic Tutsi living in eastern Congo, it is more likely that he is pushing to establish an independent state in the mineral- and timber-rich region around the Great Lakes. He is believed to receive substantial support in this effort from the government of Rwanda.
The CNDP already controls large swaths of territory where Nkunda collects taxes and tribute from the residents and siphons profits from the mines and timber operations in the region. He even went so far at one point this summer to set up customs offices on the Ugandan border where he collected tariffs on goods moving between the two countries.
Yesterday, Nkunda’s forces seized an east Congo army base at Rumangabo and the headquarters of Virunga National Park, home to 200 of the world’s remaining 700 critically endangered mountain gorillas.
The heavy fighting sent thousands of civilians fleeing, U.N. officials said. They join the estimated 100,000 newly displaced persons created by the violence that has flared in the region since August. Nearly one million Congolese are on the official UN roles of homeless people in the region. The unofficial toll is substantially higher. The fighting has also cut off medical aid and food supplies for the refugees