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DRC: "Save eastern peace process from collapse"

NAIROBI, 3 October 2008 (IRIN) - The international community must exert pressure on the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) government and ensure a "more impartial" UN peacekeeping mission to avoid a total collapse of the peace process in the east, a think-tank has warned.

Over the past month, at least 100,000 civilians have been displaced in North Kivu Province by a surge in hostilities between DRC forces and rebels loyal to former army general Laurent Nkunda, NGOs said.

"The clashes are the largest violations to date of the ceasefire agreement signed last January in Goma [capital of North Kivu] between the Congolese government, the CNDP [Congrès National pour la Défense du Peuple], and 21 other armed groups active in the east," the Enough Project said.

The project, a think-tank of the Center for American Progress, noted in its 30 September statement that last month's events had demonstrated how quickly progress in eastern DRC could unravel without unswerving diplomatic pressure.

"After weeks of tit-for-tat violence, large-scale fighting between the Congolese army and Nkunda's [CNDP] began again on 28 August in the territory of Rutshuru, North Kivu," it said.

"Violence has since spread to Masisi territory in North Kivu, and Kalehe territory in South Kivu."

Following an agreement by President Joseph Kabila on 18 September to a disengagement plan that establishes zones of separation between the Congolese army and the CNDP, "urgent diplomatic measures must be taken immediately to get the peace process on track", the think-tank said.

It called on the backers of eastern DRC's peace process - the USA and European Union - to put pressure on the government, Nkunda and other armed groups to immediately rejoin the ceasefire and honour separation zones as detailed in the disengagement plan.

"With the threat of wider violence looming, this requires high-level diplomacy in the Kivus and direct diplomacy with President Kabila and his Minister of Defence, Chikez Diemu," it added.

Civilians in danger

In their 25 September statement, 83 aid agencies and human rights groups active in the Kivus called for urgent action to protect civilians and an immediate increase in assistance to vulnerable populations.

"The situation for civilians is desperate, and it threatens to deteriorate further if fighting continues," said Rebecca Feeley of Enough. "All the parties who signed the Goma peace agreement should adhere strictly to their obligations, including to protect civilians and respect international humanitarian and human rights law."

To get the peace process on track, the implementation of the Goma peace agreement and the 2007 accord signed in Nairobi - on the removal of the Rwanda Forces Démocratiques de Liberation du Rwanda (FDLR) from the country - were crucial, as was the stability plan between the UN Mission in the DRC (MONUC) and the government, said Henri Boshoff, a military analyst at the South African-based Institute for Security Studies.

"Without these measures, the Goma accord will no longer exist," he said. "It will be reduced to what Kris Berwouts, director of the NGO-network EurArc, calls 'a parenthesis in the history of the "Somalification" of the DRC'."

According to Enough, both the CNDP and the Congolese army were spoilers of the peace process.

"Unfortunately, MONUC is more apt to speak out against the CNDP than they are against the Congolese forces about ceasefire violations and human rights abuses," it said.

However, MONUC denied the claims. "We are conducting our investigations against all human rights abuses, whether by rebel forces or government forces," Michel Bonnardeaux, MONUC’s spokesman, told IRIN.

"I do not know their [Enough Project] basis, we have a large human rights group on the ground; we inform the media on a daily basis on the situation in North Kivu, " he said.

The think-tank urged the government to engage in political negotiations with the CNDP. "Meaningful progress toward peace in eastern Congo requires strong action to stop the illegal exploitation of natural resources and end impunity for crimes against humanity," it said.

Meanwhile, German Agro Action has clarified that none of its staff was injured in an incident on 17 September in which an aid beneficiary was killed and another one injured. The agency suspended its operations for two weeks but resumed on 29 September.

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Theme(s): (IRIN) Conflict, (IRIN) Early Warning, (IRIN) Governance, (IRIN) Human Rights

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Copyright © IRIN 2008
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
IRIN is a project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.



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