The Democratic Republic of Congo has put its troops on alert following reports of an incursion of Rwandan forces. The United Nations said it has photographs of unidentified well-equipped troops in the North Kivu region, but has not publicly stated that they are Rwandan.
Rwanda has said that it reserves the right to pursue former Hutu militia involved in the 1994 Rwandan genocide if U.N. and Congolese forces fail to disarm them. Rwanda invaded Congo in 1996 and 1998.
Human rights groups say recent unrest in eastern DRC has aggravated ethnic tension. “We have seen in the last six months a real increase in ethnic fear and hatred among Congolese populations,” Alison Des Forges, of Human Rights Watch, told Africa Division reporter Cindy Shiner. “This followed the attempt by Tutsi-led officers to lead a revolt against the Congo army in Bukavu in June. And then there were the killings of more than 150 Congolese refugees who had fled to Burundi, Tutsi refugees, Banyamulenge refugees, in August and these two incidents have caused an enormous increase in anger levels throughout the whole of eastern Congo.”
She said if Rwandan troops have indeed crossed into DRC that Congolese could take revenge on other Congolese who are thought to be associated with Rwanda. Banyamulenge are ethnic Tutsis who have lived in DRC for hundreds of years. Ms. Des Forges said it has become like “a three-room echo chamber” in the Great Lakes region. “What happens in one country invariably reverberates in another because of the similarities in the composition of the population,” she said.
“You have small Tutsi minorities in Rwanda, in Burundi and in eastern Congo and that is the common denominator here that leads to this echo effect across national borders.” She said a resumption of war in DRC could upset the delicate peace process in Burundi and could increase ethnic resentment in Rwanda.
“The consequences of a resumption of war in Congo are enormous,” she said. An estimated three million people have died in DRC since the outbreak of war there in 1996. A peace accord is aimed at leading to elections next year. About 15,000 peacekeepers are in the country to carry out disarmament and demobilization.