DRC ceasefire breaches raise tension as AU rethinks peace interventions
The African Union is rethinking future intervention missions in conflict zones as ceasefire breaches in the Democratic Republic Congo are forcing the East African Community Regional Force (EACRF into combat.
The African Union first launched its Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration programme in 2011, targeting conflicts like the one in the DRC.
This week, the continental bloc said its fourth phase of disarmament programmes in conflict zones will largely rely on local peace solutions backed by data. The UN Department of Peace Operations and the World Bank are supporting the programme.
Only strategic and “in-demand” interventions in conflicts will be prioritised with regional economic blocs and national governments allowed the lead role. This will ensure that the results in the areas of conflict prevention and response are fit for purpose, and impactful,” read a dispatch from the AU on the AU DDR Capacity Programme.
Read:AU evaluates funding options for DRC peace drive
The AU says the new focus will be human rights and justice as well as conflict prevention through persuasion of armed groups to join dialogue, but decisions will be informed by local data and realities, suggesting a focus on research and community involvement.
The announcement came as attacks on the EACRF, one of the AU-backed missions in the DR Congo, came under new pressure to raise its guard, potentially pushing it into the combat mode it has avoided all year long.
This week, a Kenyan soldier in the mission reportedly died from shrapnel from a mortar fired as the Congolese army (FARDC fought an M23 rebel detachment. This is the second time the EACRF have been attacked in an ambush blamed on rebels.
Last week, the EACRF said it had successfully fought through an attack by an “unknown” armed group.
The death of the Kenyan was first confirmed by FARDC in a statement that accused M23 of targeting the regional force’s positions, saying it was aimed at “creating a misunderstanding between it and the EACRF”.
Read:EACRF soldier killed in Eastern DRC ambush
FARDC accused the M23 of firing the mortar. And while the M23 has not commented on the accusation, sources within EACRF said the mortar was fired by Wazalendo, one of the rebel movements backed by the Congo army.
On Wednesday, the regional force blamed both sides for violating a ceasefire agreed on months ago.
“The ceasefire agreement between the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC and the M23 armed group was breached,” the Mission said in a statement, referring to the October 24 incident.
“The hostile clashes fatally wounded a Kenyan peacekeeper stationed at Kanyamahoro, near Kibumba, 15km from Goma. Consequently, investigations under which this incident occurred have commenced.”
After the 21st Extra-ordinary Summit of the Heads of State of the EAC in May, the regional force was directed to safeguard civilians, support return of Internally Displaced Persons to the areas vacated by armed groups and guard areas vacated by the M23 rebels in their containment plan.
The attacks breach this, as well as the Luanda Process, in which M23 and the Congolese army committed to respecting the ceasefire.
Read:EACRF blames truce breach for soldier’s death
The May summit in Bujumbura “reaffirmed that the security situation in eastern DRC can only be sustainably resolved through a political process and dialogue among all the parties and urged the government of DRC to work with the facilitator to finalise the appropriate dates for resumption of the Inter-Congolese dialogue.”
But the political processes that play a significant role in pacifying the warring groups have not resumed despite the rising tensions and clashes.
On Monday, Rwanda said one its citizens died from a stray bullet originating from the clashes among the coalition of “Kinshasa-backed illegal armed groups” in eastern DRC, close to the Rwandan border.
“Rwanda is deeply concerned by the ongoing support and collaboration of the Government of the DRC with FDLR, other illegal armed groups, and foreign mercenaries, which is escalating provocative actions along the Rwandan border, in violation of the Luanda and Nairobi processes,” said a statement from Kigali.
The latest accusations signal broken relations that could raise tensions between the two neighbours, thereby hurting the Nairobi Process.
Read:Rwanda, DRC trade blame over border shooting
Maj-Gen Cirimwami Peter, interim Governor of North Kivu, said the Monday clash was between two armed groups, who fought deep inside the village of Kanyarutchinya.
“The governor has ordered immediate arrest of the troublemakers by the Defence and Security Services and their arraignment before the courts,” said Lt-Col Kaiko Ndjike, army spokesman in North Kivu.
Maj-Gen Cirimwami said he had referred the matter to the Joint Verification Mechanism set up as part of the Luanda Process.
Xia Huang, Special Envoy of the United Nations Secretary-General for the Great Lakes Region, told the UN Security Council the security and humanitarian situation has not improved since his last briefing to the Chamber six months ago.
Pointing to the risk of direct confrontation between the DRC and Rwanda, he warned thus: “The military strengthening in both countries, the absence of direct high-level dialogue and the persistence of hate speech are all worrying signs that we cannot ignore.”
The use of mortars and bombs by the armed groups also raises questions as to who is behind the escalating violence that also threatens to create a crisis that might deny the people in eastern DRC a chance to participate in the December 20 elections.