The Congolese army launches new operations in the Kivus, raises fears

Without much fanfare, and after almost a year of staying in holding positions, the Congolese army launched a new military offensive on February 18th. Eager to improve on past operations, this one is called Amani Kamilifu (“perfect peace” in Swahili), a successor to Amani Leo (“peace today”), Kimia I & II (“peace I & II”) and Umoja Wetu (“our unity”).
The operations appear to be confined for the moment to South Kivu, to the territories of Kabare, Kalehe, Mwenga and Shabunda, and are primarily focused against the FDLR. According to one source in the Congolese army, five battalions have been currently mobilized for these operations, one in each sector, including the following
  • 6 Sector (Colonel Rugayi): Battalion 10611 under  Lt Col Avula Yav in Hombo-Ekingi
  • 7 Sector (Col Mungura): Battalion 10721 under Lt Col Simeon in Nindja-Mpesi
  • 8 Sector (Col Kabundi): Battalion 10812 under Lt Col Kavz in Miki-Mbandakila
  • 9 Sector (Col Bernard Byamungu): Battalion 10911 under Lt Col Jaguar in Marungu-Lubumba
  • 10 Sector (Col Saddam): Unknown.
The operations have raised fears among humanitarian officials, but they also will try to build on the successes of the past months. For almost a year, the total number of displaced people had slowly fallen as aggressive military operations had largely come to a halt in the run-up to elections. Now, the United Nations has documented several new waves of displacement and abuses, especially against humanitarian workers, that may involve both army soldiers and rebel forces.
For example, a Doctors Without Borders team was attacked and robbed of their belongings in Marungu (Uvira territory) on February 27, which led the NGO to suspend its services to 38,000 vulnerable people in the area. The health center of Tchombi (Shabunda) was attacked and pillaged on February 12, allegedly by the Congolese army. The FDLR raided several villages in Kabare in March, including Cifuko, Kahamba and Mupoke, killing at least three people and burning down over a hundred huts.
By far the worst incident occurred during a confrontation between a local militia, the Raia Mutomboki, and the FDLR in Ekingi, in the Bunyakiri region of South Kivu. Between March 1st and 4th, the Raia Mutomboki allegedly killed over thirty wives and children of the FDLR, along with a local chief. Following these incidents, the FDLR hunted down and killed three Raia Mutomboki soldiers.
It is not yet clear whether there was any collusion between the Congolese army unit based nearby, which had allegedly been in the same FDLR village just days before, and the Raia Mutomboki. Survivors of the attack report that they had never seen the Mutomboki there previously.

In the meantime, there are other operations ongoing against the FDLR, ADF-Nalu and Congolese armed groups in North Kivu that have led to the displacement of thousands of other civilians.

A series of attacks by the Congolese army and local militia over the past several years has led to the steep decline in the strength of the FDLR. Most recently, a spate of assassinations against their leaders – allegedly by Rwandan special forces based in North Kivu, together with local militia – has been particularly devastating for the organization.