Painting by Cheri Samba

Lokuta eyaka na ascenseur, kasi vérité eyei na escalier mpe ekomi. Lies come up in the elevator; the truth takes the stairs but gets here eventually. - Koffi Olomide

Ésthetique eboma vélo. Aesthetics will kill a bicycle. - Felix Wazekwa

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Breakthrough in peace talks with armed group in the Kivus

This past week there was a breakthrough in peace negotiations between the national army and the Forces Républicaines Fédéralistes (FRF), a mostly Banyamulenge armed group based in the High Plateau in South Kivu above Uvira and Fizi.

There have been many rounds of talks, led by different envoys from Kinshasa, since the FRF established themselves in the High Plateau in 2005. The group, led by self-proclaimed Generals Venant Bisogo and Michel Rukunda, has never been a serious military threat, fluctuating between 50 soldiers at the beginning and over 500 at the moment. But Congolese army operations against them have often led to causalities and abuses among both civilians and military and have had a serious impact on the humanitarian situation in the High Plateau. The FRF have also played a role in a complex web of alliances that has included the FDLR, various Mai-Mai groups and young Burundian Tutsi.

If this peace deal holds, it will obviously be a good thing.

Why have talks succeeded this time? It is not entirely clear. The terms appear to be favorable to the Banyamulenge insurgency. Bisogo (previously a colonel in the RCD rebellion) and Rukunda (who I believe was a major, but a stanch critic of Rwanda) will be able to keep their ranks of general and their troops will be integrated into 431st brigade that is deployed in the hills close to where their families are. A key condition of their integration (and that of the CNDP before them) had always been that their troops remain in the Kivus.

Perhaps the largest concession they were able to extract from the government is the departure of General Pacifique Masunzu, the Banyamulenge commander of South Kivu's military region where they are located. Masunzu fell out with FRF and has led the often brutal military operations against them since 2005. In addition, Bisigo would become the second in command of South Kivu's military region and Rukunda (who is also known as Mekanika) would become the operational commander in Uvira.

However, the FRF apparently had to drop their demands for back pay and has agreed to hand over all of their stocks of weapons and ammunition. In addition, the contentious status of Minembwe has been deferred for the moment and it seems unlikely - if the peace deal holds - that it will be brought up again. The FRF, along with many other Banyamulenge, had been pushing for the creation of a territory of Minembwe, so they could have had their own administrative services (land and marriage registry, etc.) and electoral district.

Already, a peace ceremony has been held in Minembwe, and some 500 FRF soldiers are reportedly on their way to integrate with the Congolese army. The soldiers are supposed to be deployed in operations against the FDLR. However, there are fears that this will set a strong precedent for other armed groups, and that they will now also be making similar demands. Nonetheless, there were reports of a sizable demobilization of Mai-Mai Cheka, Kingombe and Kifuafua in Hombo, on the border between North Kivu and South Kivu this past week.


Anonymous said...

A short Hauts Plateaux update. The actual number of FRF troops is much smaller than the alleged 500. In fact, this created enormous problems with the FARDC integration, leading the FRF to recruit a large number of minors (there are very few young adult male Banyamulenge on the Hauts Plateaux as most youngsters go to Uvira, Bukavu, Burundi or Rwanda to go to university). This left the FRF with no other option than recruiting from high schools in order to fill up the numbers). Makanika first showed up in Kamombo with less than 100 elements, but at the integration ceremony in Minembwe 4 days later, about 350 elements were present. An unknown number of FRF troops have been left behind in the Kamombo area (and an unknown number of arms, only 260 have been handed in). Official military sources speak of 460 elements integrated.

Furthermore, many unknown variables remain. What was negotiated by the Amani Leo top brass was mainly a military deal to create a new operational sector (the 44th), which will contain two mixed brigades, one commanded by Colonel Zaire (ex-431st brigade) and one under FRF command, which will have its HQ at Kamombo and control also the Bijombo area. The sector commander will be colonel Shaka (FRF). If all child soldiers are forced out, it seems that there will be two very small brigades in the 44th sector, as the 431st already had reduced numbers.

There is no confirmation yet that Makanika and Bisogo will be granted the rank of general, negotiations about this as well as about turning Minembwe into a territory are ongoing. Latest (not confirmed) news is that both will become colonel full at most. It appears that Bisogo will become 2nd in command of the 10th Military Region (South Kivu), Makanika 2nd in command of Amani Leo in South Kivu and Colonel Willy 2nd in command of the 4th operational zone. It is not confirmed that Masunzu will leave immediately, but even before the FRF negotiations, there were already rumors that he would be transferred elsewhere (with the reorganization of the military structure of North and South Kivu announced for the month of February).

After the FRF integrated, Delphin Kahimbi gave Mai Mai Aoci and Mai Mai Yakutumba a deadline of 8 days to surrender. Apparently, Yakutumba heeded this call and he is reported to be regrouping at present in Mukera, ready to surrender. Negotiations with Aoci are ongoing. It are exciting times indeed in the South/South area.

Jason Stearns said...

Very interesting - thank you for the update.

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