NORTH KIVU PROVINCE, DRC— The Democratic Republic of Congo’s army and the M23 rebels in the east of the country are both trying to forge alliances with militias or armed groups. The M23 is reported to have allied with nine armed groups including some notorious human-rights abusers, while the army has been trying to integrate several militias into its ranks, so far with uneven results.
The United Nations radio in the DRC, Radio Okapi, reports that 35 militia leaders and combatants took part in an army parade in North Kivu province on Tuesday, where they promised that their followers would soon come out of the bush and join the army.
The 35 men were from three groups - the Raia Mutomboki or Angry Citizens Alliance, a multi-ethnic coalition; the Nyatura, an ethnic Hutu group; and a small group called the Union of Congolese Patriots.
The day after that ceremony, the United Nations revealed that Raia Mutomboki groups have killed at least 246 civilians, mainly women, children and elderly people, in scores of attacks on villages in North Kivu province between April and September.
Following that report, the government’s communications minister, Lambert Mende, said that militias returning from the bush would not necessarily be integrated in the army.
"There is a lot to be done with such people to reinstate them in a normal life, but not only within the army. This is something to be managed by the government, by the local authorities and by the justice [system] because maybe among those people who are returning some criminals might be found," Mende said.
Limited Army Success
So far the only militia the army has integrated on a large scale this year is the Nyatura. The U.N. accuses this group, with their Rwandan rebel allies the FDLR (or Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda), of killing at least 18 civilians in North Kivu’s Masisi territory between April and September.
Around 200 of the Nyatura armed group assembled at an army base at Mushaki in Masisi territory last month.
Unarmed group might have been a better description, as most of these young men had no visible weapons. One of them gave his name as Lieutenant Hazikimana Idriss.
He said they are happy the government is ready to support them, but are still hoping to be paid salaries, to guarantee their survival.
Hazikimana admitted that most of his group had been in the army before, and had deserted.
He says they abandoned the army because it did not guarantee them anything. They were badly paid, badly fed and had no spare set of clothes.
The DRC’s land forces commander, General Amisi Tango Fort, spoke to a group of Nyatura officers and other leaders after inspecting the combatants.
He said he knew their conditions are uncomfortable, since it often rains at Mushaki and it is cold, but he would be returning on Saturday and would try to bring them some tents.
The general also told the Nyatura that if they had left weapons in the forest they should bring them to the next inspection.
In late September the authorities announced that two other militias had agreed to join the army - the Alliance of Patriots for a Free and Sovereign Congo (or APCLS) and the so-called Guides or Congo Defense Forces.
But last month a spokesman for the APCLS, John Lewis Weza, said at Kalembe village in Northern Masisi and explained that the integration had not yet happened because certain conditions had not been met.
He said the APCLS leader had laid down a condition for integrating with the army that it should guarantee the APCLS’s logistics, because their depots were running down.
Later in that interview Weza complained that the army had blocked an attempt by APCLS supporters to bring them ammunition.
The militia had an answer to their complaint a few hours later.
The ammunition was on its way - courtesy of the Congolese army, which was attacking the village. The villagers speaking there said they are used to the sound of gunfire. After a three-hour fire fight the militia retreated, leaving behind several dead.
Militiamen integrating or allying with the army will expect something in return, says International Crisis Group analyst Thierry Vircoulon.
"The integration process is not working, and the conditions for it to work are not yet in place. The problem of the militiamen going into the army is the same as it was five years ago. When you talk to them they say ‘Well, we’re going into the army, but the army is not paying us.'" Vircoulon said.
Questions on M23 Allies
Another Congo analyst, Jason Stearns, says the M23 rebels have made alliances with nine armed groups in eastern Congo, including some of the Raia Mutomboki, who are accused of massacring women, children and the elderly.
Vircoulon says the M23’s allies may not be reliable.
"Those alliances are very opportunistic. They are more or less based on money, and a lot of those alliances still need to be tested on the ground - I mean, for instance, in a combat situation," Vircoulon said.
A M23 spokesman, Didier Kasereka, said that so far the movement had allied with only one armed group, the so-called Mai Mai Lafontaine, although he also said they were seeking alliances with other groups.
The M23 captured parts of North Kivu during fighting with the army earlier this year. United Nations monitors have accused the group of receiving support from Rwanda and Uganda - charges that both countries have vigorously denied.