Kivus move closer to peace - but risks remain

The 23 March deal between the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the rebel Congrès national pour la défense du peuple (CNDP) could boost peace in the east but underlying threats to stability need to be addressed, according to analysts.

The accord will transform the CNDP into a political party. "The peace deal is of course welcome, as clashes between the Congolese army and the CNDP were at the heart of large-scale displacement and abuses like that seen in North Kivu late last year," Sarah Bailey, research officer with the Overseas Development Institute, told IRIN.

Under the accord, former CNDP soldiers will be integrated into FARDC, the national army, and also into a new police force.

The CNDP claimed to be protecting ethnic Tutsi interests in the province from the Forces démocratiques pour la libération du Rwanda (FDLR), a Hutu group founded by fugitive perpetrators of Rwanda’s 1994 genocide.

"The new political leadership of the CNDP has secured a lot of influence in the future administration of North Kivu, obtaining access to key provincial positions for its political members but also a strong presence in the military and police," the DRC analyst for the International Crisis Group (ICG) in Nairobi told IRIN.

The deal also commits both parties to facilitate the return of hundreds of thousands of displaced Kivu inhabitants.

"This is likely to be a complicated and controversial step considering that it will raise a lot of land-distribution issues and that it could significantly modify the ethnic balance in some areas of North Kivu," said the ICG analyst, adding that returns could not take place safely until attacks by FDLR ceased.

Security issues

The deal raises some hard questions, according to Bailey. "The first is that the CNDP has a terrible record of abuses against civilians, and for that matter, so does the FARDC," she said. "So a broader issue that must be addressed is how to ensure that the FARDC protects civilians and does not prey on them, including vetting those from the CNDP who have been responsible for serious human rights violations."

CNDP military chief Bosco Ntaganda has been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes committed in the north-eastern district of Ituri. The Congolese government has refused to hand him to the ICC in the interests of securing the east, a move criticised by Human Rights Watch. "ICC arrest warrants should not be ignored when they are politically inconvenient," said HRW in February.

According to Muzong Kodi, associate fellow with the Africa Programme at the UK think-tank Chatham House, the accord may also be sending a wrong message. "It seems dividends are being given to warring parties; already, a lot of warlords have been integrated into the army," he said. "The message they are sending is, the more people you kill... the more chance you have of getting a government position."

Photo: Les Neuhaus/IRIN
CNDP leader, Laurent Nkunda, during a 2008 rally in the North Kivu town
of Rutshuru: The CNDP claimed to be protecting ethnic Tutsi interests

"We are also concerned that the underlying issues behind the war [in eastern DRC] have not been addressed, especially relating to the exploitation of natural resources," Kodi said. "If the new [integrated] army continues to fuel the war and exploit resources... then there is no light at the end of the tunnel."

The land issue and claims by marginalised groups as well as meddling by Congo's neighbours, mainly Rwanda and Uganda, should also be addressed, he said.

Impact on FDLR

The accord is also likely to impact on the FDLR "… now [that] the CNDP and Congolese government are united against them," said Bailey. "If you look at alliances in Congo's numerous conflicts, 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend' applies. And right now the FDLR has no friends and many enemies.

"Everyone agrees that the FDLR needs to be disarmed and demobilised but how to go about this in a way that doesn't cause displacement, and reprisals against civilians, is a hard question," she said.

According to Kodi, the FDLR is on the defensive. "I think the FDLR must feel now that they have no choice but to fight. The door for negotiation [with the FDLR] is slowly closing and this is a pity."

"I think the best solution would have been attracting moderate FDLR elements to go back to Rwanda... but now all the elements have been painted with the same brush," he said.

Kodi warned this could jeopardise the situation for civilians in the short to medium term. "A lot will depend on measures to protect civilians by FARDC and MONUC [the UN Mission in the DRC]."

However, he said it was worth noting that most of the militias in the Kivus had signed agreements with the government. "What a lot of them [the militias] have said so far gives a lot of people hope. They have said they are satisfied with the terms of the agreements."

"If we see a strengthening of the national army through CNDP integration and in countering the FDLR then it [the accord] will have played the role the people of North and South Kivu are hoping for," he said.