Rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo loyal to renegade army General Laurent Nkunda are accusing the United Nations Mission (MONUC) of backing the national army. Peacekeepers attacked the National Congress for the Defense of People (CNDP) rebel group with helicopter gunships Monday to protect civilians after the rebels surged near the provincial capital, Goma. This comes after angry protesters pelted four UN compounds with stones, claiming MONUC failed to protect them from the advancing rebels.
Jack Kahora is a journalist in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He tells reporter Peter Clottey from North Kivu's restive provincial capital Goma that the current situation is tense after peacekeepers fired warning shots into the crowd of angry protesters.
"MONUC is supporting the governmental forces in the situation of casualties in the military, guys who are wounded. And according to the rebels, MONUC is no longer neutral, contending that it should not support one side and leave the other side. And as you know, the rebels are also accusing the FRDC (the national army) of fighting on the side of the FDLR (Forces Democratiques de Liberation du Rwanda), that is the Rwandan militia, as well as accusing MONUC of backing the FDLR," Kahora noted.
He said the rebels claim they have no choice but to attack MONUC and the national army together.
"Meanwhile, on Monday evening, the spokesman for the rebels spoke with reporters telling them that they don't know who they are going to attack because there is a confusion between the FRDC, the FDLR and the MONUC and that they (rebels) have no choice. They have to fight all of them," he said.
Kahora said residents are expressing their frustration of the failure of the UN mission to protect them against the clashes between the rebels and the Congolese national army.
"The local people are very angry when they heard that clashes are still going on and that the rebels are taking over villages upon villages and seeing the IDP's (internally displaced persons) coming into Goma. They are very angry and saying that it was unacceptable since MONUC has got important equipment that could fight the rebels so that they can be expelled from the different villages where they have taken over. So due to the tensed situation the demonstrators were very, very angry with the MONUC troops after shooting on the demonstrators. Therefore, the whole day, there was no activity in town. Shops were closed and the situation has been tense since afternoon," Kahora pointed out.
Nkunda's forces, which comprise mostly ethnic Tutsis, refused to integrate with the government forces and have been controlling much of the Kivu area. The dissident general is said to have the backing of Rwanda's Tutsi-dominated government. Kahora says the residents are also complaining that suspected foreigners attacking villages.
"There are two reasons for this fact because the military officials as well as politicians collected some evidence of the involvement of Rwanda, such as the military cloth and some other items that they attributed to the Rwanda forces. But also the statement of some politicians, because recently the special envoy of President Paul Kagame met some senators and said MONUC is also on the side of the FDLR and Intarhamwe as well as the FRDC," he said.
People in eastern Congo are furious that the U.N. peacekeeping mission — the biggest in the world with 17,000 troops — has been unable to protect them from a rebel force that says it is fighting to protect ethnic Tutsis. Residents opposed to rebels, including Hutus and those who lived in camps after fleeing earlier conflicts, feel particularly threatened. Kahora says Congolese are upset about the deplorable humanitarian situation in particular.
"Some officials are saying there are between one million and a million and half of IDPS who have no assistance because of the current situation, which is prevailing on the ground. You have to understand that the situation is very critical and the numbers of IDPS are not ending. Every day, we are recording more and more internally displaced people," Kahora noted.
Meanwhile, tens of thousands of civilians have reportedly abandoned their homes. Women and children lay down on roadsides made muddy by tropical downpours, stretching out to spend the night. Some had mats or plastic sheets; others simply dropped, exhausted, to the earth.