Several armed groups in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo have agreed to a ceasefire, and an alliance, after months of ethnic conflict. Observers say it is the first time the armed groups have reached such an extensive agreement, but they are worried that it may not last.
The village of Mashadi in Masisi territory has been on the front line of ethnic conflict between the Hutu and Hunde communities. On November 11 it was attacked by a Hutu militia, the Nyatura, who ransacked and burned the houses lived in by Hunde, but left all the Hutus’ houses untouched.
The local chief says 155 houses were destroyed and five people killed.
This has been a common pattern in Masisi this year as ethnic militias mainly from the Tembo, Hunde and Hutu communities have wreaked havoc across the territory. Many villages that used to have a mixed population are now empty or inhabited by only one ethnic group.
But last Saturday a government official, Ngwisha Mapendo, had news for the Hutu villagers who are still living at Mashadi.
Speaking at a village assembly he told them they could now have peace. He said he had been at a meeting on December 18 in which local authorities and other power holders had agreed on a ceasefire.
Speaking to VOA at Mashadi, Ngwisha explained that local people had approached armed group leaders and persuaded them to send representatives to the meeting where they arranged a ceasefire and a peace alliance.
He said that besides the Nyatura, other armed groups were represented at the meeting, included the APCLS (Alliance of Patriots for a Free and Sovereign Congo), the Raia Mutomboki (Angry Citizens alliance), and several so-called Mai-Mai groups.
Together these groups account for the bulk of the militias in North Kivu province, apart from the M23 rebels and their allies and the Rwandan rebel FDLR (the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda).
The militia alliance held another meeting on December 27 at the APCLS headquarters at Nyabiondo, in the Hunde heartland.
Speaking to VOA at Nyabiondo shortly after that meeting, a representative of the Mai-Mai groups known as General Samson said they had agreed to work under the APCLS leader, known as General Janvier Buingo Karairi.
Samson also said that if the government army was able to defeat the M23, the Mai-Mai would be ready to enroll in the army, and if it could not defeat the M23 on its own, the Mai-Mai would help.
Some local people think the ceasefire and the alliance are part of a government strategy.
Aimee Imoabita is a Hunde who had to flee his village and is now living at a displaced persons camp in Masisi Center, a town in the territory.
He said he knows the APCLS is now with the government because since that armed group came to the town it has not caused any trouble for the authorities or for local people. The APCLS do not kill people, he said, and they guard the population very well.
Other displaced people at the camp, including Hutus, agreed.
It is clear that the APCLS and government troops are collaborating, although they were fighting each other until mid-November. Peace talks between the government and the M23 are due to restart in Kampala Friday. What is not clear is how the APCLS and the other armed groups will react if the government signs a deal with the M23, which captured and briefly occupied the provincial capital, Goma, in November.
Speaking to VOA at Nyabiondo, APCLS leader Janvier said it was unlikely the talks would end the war.
He said the M23 have demanded that five of their leaders be given generals’ ranks in the army and have made other demands that will be difficult for the government to accept.
Janvier also said that he is not yet ready to enroll his troops in the army.
He said the government has given too many army posts to the enemy and he wants the government to expel the enemy from the army before his own troops enroll.
Activists in North Kivu helped to broker the armed groups’ ceasefire. The president of North Kivu group, Thomas d’Aquin Muitu, praised their efforts.
They should be encouraged to continue their work, he said, because divisive forces are still active. But he said a bigger task still lies ahead, which is to persuade the armed groups to join the army.
Meanwhile, the authorities are hoping they can persuade the Hunde and Hutu to live together in Masisi by relocating markets. Government official Ngwisha Mapendo told the villagers at Mashaki that a market would be moved to their village to encourage the Hunde to return.