Bizarre Ballet In Congo

The bizarre dance that is the war in eastern Congo continues, with Rwandan troops claiming victory after victory over the FDLR, former rebel commander Laurent Nkunda either under arrest or vacationing at an undisclosed location, and now indicted war criminal Bosco Ntaganda calling for immunity for the crimes committed by the CNDP while it was under Nkunda’s command.

It all appears to be part of a surreal ballet choreographed by Rwanda’s Paul Kagame and Congo’s President Joseph Kabila, who is either dancing under duress or simply swaying along in time to the beat sounding from Rwanda’s capital Kigali. Either way, thousands of Rwandan soldiers are tearing around North Kivu province, invited to the ball by Kinshasa ostensibly to finally stamp out the FDLR, remnants of the Hutu Interahamwe who fled to Congo after the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Previous incursions by the Rwandan Tutsi forces and a decade of pursuit by their proxy army, the CNDP, didn’t accomplish that task, but someone apparently believes it can be done now.

Of course, there is also the very real possibility that the entire operation, known as Umoja Wetu (Our Unity), was meant to do nothing more than clean up the mess Nkunda was making by announcing his megalomaniac intentions to overthrow Kabila’s government. One good indication of that premise is that the first place the Rwandan army headed was toward Nkunda’s stronghold, not the FDLR camps, and the first major action they completed was to “arrest” Nkunda. The commander disappeared following the action, which doesn’t do much for the credibility of anyone involved.

Joseph Kabila promised in an address on January 31 that Nkunda would be extradited “in due course” but Paul Kagame’s government has been silent on the matter. The plea for immunity for Nkunda’s troops issued yesterday by the current leaders of the CNDP clouds the issue. If they are forgiven their actions, why should the men who ordered (or permitted) them to commit the atrocities be punished? As a practical matter, of course, it will be much less disruptive if the CNDP is fully integrated into the Congolese army as other dissident groups have been since the 2003 peace accords were signed. It doesn’t make for a very effective command structure, but at least everybody wears the same uniforms.

Then there is the question of what happens to Bosco Ntaganda, the current self-proclaimed leader of the CNDP. He’s been indicted by the ICC and is apparently accessible by reporters, yet neither the Rwandan nor the Congolese army seem able to “arrest” him. The dancing around such questions is endless.

The biggest question of all is whether the Rwandan forces will actually leave Congo. The same can be asked of the Ugandan army pursuing Joseph Kony’s Lords Resistance Army over the bodies of hundreds of slain civilians farther north. Kabila said that both armies must leave by the end of this month (February). If the past is prologue, however, neither one will leave until they’ve secured the mines, timber, and other commercial interests they’ve always pursued in Congo.

Sorry if I sound skeptical of everyone’s good intentions, but there is too much history here to take anything at face value.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

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