Tensions Rise in Goma

A strange press statement was issue yesterday in Goma, or rather the combination of signatories was strange: CNDP and PARECO. The two groups, once part of the same group, then bitter enemies, now once again apparently allied, wrote to denounce the lack of progress in implementing the March 2009 peace deal, as well as to castigate Human Rights Watch for the latest press statement on Bosco Ntaganda.

In particular, the two groups demand the return of Tutsi refugees from Rwanda, the formal recognition of their ranks within the national army and the integration of their cadres into Congolese administration and military. They also said that Bosco should be presumed innocent and that we should not jump to conclusions that the assassination of Maj. Antoine Balibuno was in fact carried out by his men.

None of this is new. (Read here the CNDP demands handed to Kabila last month.) The fact that most CNDP military units have been integrated into the national army and been given lucrative and important positions (although not yet official ranks) indicates that they may not have it as bad as they suggest. There have indeed been delays regarding refugee returns, but some of these are understandable given the tenuous security situation in their villages of origin, and Congolese authorities have not been very strict (to put it mildly) about verifying the refugees’ nationality and place of origin. There are certainly problems and matters of concern for the CNDP and PARECO, but things are not so bad.

So what is really going on?

One serious concern on everyone’s mind and lips is the announcement by the Congolese army that they would be moving units from the Kivus elsewhere in the country, especially CNDP units. This provoked a serious backlash from within the CNDP, who fear being isolated and marginalized if they are broken up and sent to Bas-Congo, for example. Some suggest that this move was backed by Rwanda, which is concerned of a possible CNDP-FDLR-PARECO alliance affiliated with dissident RPF leaders in exile. It is too soon to tell whether there is really such an alliance, but the Rwandans have hinted that they are worried. The reports of a possible presence of Rwandan troops in North Kivu and Rwandan security officials in and around Goma would strengthen this theory.

This coalition between CNDP-PARECO – which their leaders say is political, not military – should be seen in this light. Apparently the threat of being sent out of the Kivus has been so pronounced that the CNDP have even been patching up their internal differences, with reports of Bosco now re-taking the helm of all former Nkunda officers and orchestrating this rapprochement with PARECO, a mostly Hutu armed group. Bosco, of course, has his own hide to save, with indications that he is being relieved of his command with the Congolese army and that he might have to start worrying that the ICC warrant might finally be executed. However, given the amount of blood that has been split between these groups and how bitter their enmity is, it is difficult to believe that this coalition could last for very long.

It will be very difficult for any serious insurrection to succeed as long as the Kigali-Kinshasa alliance holds, but there are worries that this could undermine stability in the run-up to elections next year, polarizing the province. Also, Uganda is still a wild card – they might decide to provide a little support to a new rebellion, just to keep leverage on Rwanda (and Congo), but it is unlikely that Museveni would take any major risks before elections in his own country next year.

In the meantime, the Congolese army seems to have back-peddled a bit. Today, on Radio Okapi, the commander of the North Kivu military region said they are not going to deploy whole units belonging to certain groups out of the province, but that they might instead consider re-deploying individuals.