Accessibility links

Congo Deploys Thousands Troops to East, Stirring Fears of War - 2004-06-20


Large-scale movements of government troops towards eastern Congo during the last week are raising fears of a renewed conflict in the war-torn country.

The details are sketchy, but analysts and diplomats in Kinshasa say that in the last week, the government has sent up to 10,000 soldiers toward Eastern Congo, in what has been described as an unprecedented build-up.

Military sources say civilian aircraft are being hired and, in some cases, commandeered, as soldiers are being flown to various locations in the east.

The army has refused to confirm the numbers, and says that there is nothing unusual about its operations. The army spokesman says the activities are a response to president Joseph Kabila's call for a general mobilization of soldiers following the recent violence in the country.

But there are concerns that that the move will heighten tensions, not only within Congo's fragile transitional government but also with neighboring Rwanda.

The dissident army officers who seized the lakeside town of Bukavu in eastern Congo early this month belong to RCD-Goma, a former rebel group that was backed by Rwanda during Congo's five-year war. The dissident soldiers withdrew from the town last week, but have threatened to return if their demands for protection of a local ethnic group are not met. The dissidents themselves were accused of attacks on civilians when they controlled the town.

There are fears that the government's attempts to take control of the area could reignite the civil war.

The escalation is also further straining tensions between the Kinshasa government and the government in Kigali. Rwanda invaded Congo in 1996 and 1998, initially claiming it was pursuing Hutu rebels who were responsible for the 1994 genocide.

Although Rwanda officially withdrew its troops as part of a series of peace accords signed in 2002, Congo's president Joseph Kabila accuses Rwanda of supporting the dissident soldiers who took control of Bukavu this month.

And on Saturday, Rwanda's foreign minister accused Congo of mobilizing the Rwandan Hutu militias as part of preparations to invade.

Diplomatic efforts to find a peaceful resolution to the latest crisis are being made, both by regional bodies in Africa and by some western nations. But there are growing fears that in an atmosphere of deep mistrust eastern Congo could easily be plunged back into war.

XS
SM
MD
LG