Force against Gen Nkunda is Catastrophic - U.S. Think-Tank

Every effort must be made to discourage the Congolese government and UN forces from pursuing a military solution to the problem of the dissident officers in
General Laurent Nkunda (C) and his men.
General Laurent Nkunda (C) and his men.

Every effort must be made to discourage the Congolese government and UN forces from pursuing a military solution to the problem of the dissident officers in North Kivu or else the whole region ends up in chaos, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) has warned.

Testifying before the US Senate Subcommittee on African Affairs on Wednesday, Mr. Mauro De Lorenzo - a Fellow from the thank-tank said four risky scenarios are likely under which an attempt to resolve the crisis by force results in greater tragedy.

De Lorenzo said President Joseph Kabila will be in a delicate position in a case where UN-Congolese troops are defeated with grave casualties. Nkunda’s forces are well-trained and experienced, and above all they have a clear sense of purpose, because they feel they are fighting for the survival of their community, he said.

Troop contributing countries, De Lorenzo believes would demand a “withdraw or effectively retreat into a tortoise shell for the remainder” of the MONUC mandate.

President Kabila is due to meet his US counterpart on Friday and reports suggest he will be told to keep the war machine down or the whole region ends up in mayhem.

The Think-Tank says President Kabila would also be seen as weak if he gave in to Gen Nkunda.

He might not be able to survive as leader, opening the political space to a destabilizing competition for political power, De Lorenzo said.

Under Scenario three, the Think-Tank suggests that surrender from Gen Nkunda is impossible because it would cause rifts among his forces. Gen Nkunda would probably be sidelined by his own officers and supporters before any such deal could be put into effect.

“They would keep fighting because they have no confidence in the willingness, much less ability, of Congolese security forces to protect them and their community”, De Lorenzo said.

The Think-Tank with close ties to President Bush and the Republican electorate, says Nkunda’s forces have the capacity to maintain an insurgency of some type for many years, and they can do so without any support from Rwanda. Their funds and foot soldiers are generated internally, within their community, he told Senators.

The fourth scenario, according to the Think-Tank is the “most dangerous” because should Nkunda lose to UN/government forces - so long as the FDLR and extremist Mayi-Mayi militias are still active, they will likely attack Banyarwanda civilians.

“At a minimum they will loot their property and attempt to expel them to Rwanda and Uganda.

If they are bolder, they will murder many of them, as they have repeatedly done in the past.” said De Lorenzo.

He said this scenario would also signal the re-emergence of the FDLR as a dangerous military force on Rwanda’s border.
Furthermore, the Think-Tank says the reputational damage to the United Nations (whose reputation in Congo has already been severely dented by sex scandals and illegal gold trading) would be significant if a military victory that it helped bring about - resulted in the ethnic cleansing of an entire community.

“Both defeat and victory would be fraught with danger, as I indicated above.

The human consequences, though impossible to predict, could, based on the recent experiences of the region, dwarf that of any other current crisis on the continent.” he said.

The experts reminded the Senators that the FDLR has been designated a Foreign Terrorist Group by the Department of State, and was responsible for the targeted murder of Americans in Bwindi National Park in Uganda in 1998.

“They (FDLR) must not be treated as if they are just any other party to the conflict”, De Lorenzo pointed out.
Sexual violence aggravated .

The Think-Tank predicts that all the scenarios will dramatically increase the already unfathomable levels of sexual violence against women in Kivu.

“The FARDC (government troops) are one of the leading perpetrators of such violence, and any help from MONUC that enables the FARDC to operate more freely throughout the countryside before the units are disciplined and under firm supervision could be considered complicity, since a rise in sexual violence would be a predictable consequence”, said De Lorenzo.

He added: “Support from MONUC that inadvertently allows the Mayi-Mayi and FDLR militias, the chief perpetrators of the rapes, more freedom to roam would be equally devastating.”

US engagement crucial
The Think-Tank says continued US involvement in this region has made an appreciable difference since the late 1990s and should actually be scale up through the Tripartite Plus mechanism.

The Tripartite process, kick-started in 2004 by then U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, became the “Tripartite Plus” after a fourth nation, Burundi, joined the talks.

A Tripartite Plus Joint Commission (TJC) was established at the highest ministerial level with a number of subcommissions charged with examining issues like security and diplomatic relations.

“It is cost-effective, produces results, and is a form of U.S. engagement that is welcomed by the regional governments, because it allows them to maintain control of the agenda”, said De Lorenzo.

The Think-Tank wants the US government to maintain bilateral engagement with regional the governments, ensure adequate funding for UN forces and make sure it fulfills its mandate.

The expert believes supporting the UN forces would make them be “more aggressive with all illegal armed groups in the country, to include the FDLR, the Mayi-Mayi, the LRA, as well as Nkunda’s forces”.

The fact that Congo now has a democratically elected government does not require the international community to acquiesce in (and pay for) policy choices which will predictably result in political disaster and violations of human rights law, De Lorenzo noted.

Rwanda News Agency/Agence Rwandaise d’Information (Kigali)

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