23 January, 2009

Nkunda Arrested!

I was checking the BBC on the metro this morning when I read that Nkunda has been arrested! While this news made me jump for joy (literally!) I feel compelled to cover something else before Nkunda – though believe me, we will get there…

So in Israel’s massacre in Gaza last week they bombed 2 UN buildings. The first was the headquarters of the United Nations Relief Works Agency. “This is an agency that is responsible for feeding, schooling, and providing health care for several hundred thousand Palestinian refugees.” (UN Website) No one was killed, but UN vehicles and supplies were destroyed. The second was an “UN school that served as an emergency shelter which was struck by an Israeli bomb, killing 40 people. Even more troubling are reports that the rockets which struck the school included White Phosphorous mortars, which is a substance banned under international law from being used in populated areas” (ibid). This to me is unacceptable. And, guess what, no repercussions for Israel... You don’t just get to shoot at the UN – you don’t!

Israel has stated that it purposefully targeted these UN buildings because Hamas militants were nearby. As I've said before, risking the lives of human shields just to get at the Hamas terrorists who are holding them hostage does not quite cut it.

UN Secretary Ban Ki Moon has told Israel to "make those responsible people accountable." But what if that means you make your own military acting on government initiative accountable. Hmmmm now we’re getting into the Bush administration policy… (oh, by the way, the UN wants to prosecute Bush and Rumsfelt for their actions! Crazy!) Here is a rundown of the cost of Israel’s Offensive…

And now to the big news of today: Nkunda arrested!

Brief backgroung: Nkunda is the commander of the “Rwandan-backed Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD) - the main rebel group which controlled most of eastern DR Congo during the five-year civil war.” (BBC) He claims to be protecting the Tutsi minority in the DRC from the Hutus who live there. In reality he is a major instigator in keeping the DRC unstable. It is rumored that he is connected back to Paul Kagame, president of Rwanda, and receives aid from Kagame to keep his offensive alive and kicking. He is wanted for war crimes in the DRC. He has led the RCD since the mid-1990’s when he went into the Congo. Rumors circulated last week that he had been ousted as general. Though Nkunda denied it and quickly took care of those who started the rumor.

Now, according to AP:

Rwandan and Congolese troops converged Thursday on Nkunda's stronghold in the Congolese town of Bunagana on the Ugandan border, said Capt. Olivier Hamuli, a spokesman for the joint force. But Nkunda fled farther south, crossing the border into Rwanda where he was taken into custody, he said. The account was confirmed by the Rwandan army.

Early this week 4,000 Rwandan troops entered the DRC...

at the invitation of Congo's government, a startling reversal of alliances between the two longtime enemies. Both nations have said the Rwandans are in Congo as part of an operation to hunt down and disarm thousands of mostly Hutu ethnic fighters who fled to Congo in the wake of Rwanda's 1994 genocide.

Enough has some concerns about the troops moving in to fight the FDLR. The most important is this:

But most worrisome in terms of civilian protection, the United Nations doesn’t seem to be involved whatsoever in planning this operation, despite recent augmentations to the mandate of MONUC, the peacekeeping force for Congo. Worse, recent reports have the Congolese army blocking access by UN peacekeepers and aid workers to areas north of Goma.

So what does this mean? It’s too soon to tell. UN workers were denied access to refuges and IDPs earlier this week – not a good sign if you ask me. The UN is as much of a neutral party as there is in The DRC. They care for those the armies do not. And with millions displaced, hungry, scared and vulnerable the UN must be allowed to move freely.

And what about Nkunda’s troops? Are they expected to assimilate into the Rwandan army? I am sure Nkunda is not the only one who committed a war crime. A rebel leader always has his stooges, so it is imperative that the other members of Nkunda’s task force be held accountable too. And who is going to keep and try Nkunda? I wish I could be more optimistic about Rwandan courts, but they might be too close to the problem, and if the crimes were committed in the DRC shouldn’t he be tried there? But with no government infrastructure I don’t think Nkunda should be their triumphant moment (aka their circus). The Hague should be responsible for Nkunda. They should convene a special trial in the DRC like they have done in Liberia and other places.Nkunda must be made to face those he has hurt – including the thousands of women his men raped – in a court that will ensure justice.

Nkunda’s arrest is a start. But it will be years before he is properly tried. Now it will be interesting to see if Rwanda and the DRC can continue to work together. I bet they both have their own agenda independent of the coalition – and it will be interesting to see if what both sides want will prove to be bigger than this idea of a peace.

And yet, somehow, I am still convinced it all goes back to this

Update: The UNHCR fears military build-up could create massive displacement!

Drawing from our past experience in this region, we fear that these operations could create new and massive displacement of the civilian population. The humanitarian situation in North Kivu is already dramatic, with some 850,000 internally displaced people (IDPs). Of them, some 250,000 were forced to flee just since last August, and many of them have already been displaced multiple times.