DRC: IRIN background brief on Kivu, 9/10/97

DRC: IRIN background brief on Kivu, 9/10/97


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Mai Mai warriors, backed by soldiers from the defeated Rwandan and former Zairean armies, are reported to be playing a central role in a fresh outbreak of insecurity in the Masisi region in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (former Zaire). Meanwhile, a second group of fighters, with vaguer origins and believed to be operating independently, has emerged in the Fizi region of South Kivu. The situation is further complicated by reports of growing tensions between units of Rwandan and Congolese troops which have sparked sporadic exchanges of gunfire and unconfirmed reports of deaths. Humanitarian sources say the situation in the region is now confused and chaotic, but overall it appears anti-Tutsi groups, made up of Rwandan, Burundian, and Congolese fighters, are forming loose alliances directed at the Tutsi-dominated forces of President Laurent-Desire Kabila and his Rwandan allies.

Aid workers report both the towns of Goma and Bukavu to be "very tense" with gunfire heard at night and reinforcements of strategic points by government troops. One Bukavu-based aid worker said Bunyakiri, about 80 km north of Bukavu, was occupied by rebels at the end of last week and attacks were also reported in the towns of Sake and Minova. Other reports said the government had moved heavy artillery to Tshibanda, some 35 km from the town on the main Bukavu-Bunyakiri axis.

Mai Mai fighters, sporting necklaces of "gri-gri" (charms) and heavily influenced by witchcraft, earlier this year helped the-then rebel army of Kabila take power, but fell out shortly afterwards as his administration sought to impose the authority of central government in the area. Named after the Swahili word for water (maji) with which they sprinkle themselves before combat believing it brings immortality, their reemergence coincides with the creation last month of a new rebel group 'Alliance pour la Resistance Democratique' (Democratic Resistance Alliance - DRA) with the stated aim of 'liberating' eastern DRC. Local sources say the new movement is made up largely of Bembe peoples and one of its leaders is Celestin Anzaluni Bembe, a politician from the Fizi region who held the post of 'first vice-president' in Mobutu's last government and is allegedly well-known for his anti-Tutsi sentiments. The movement, reportedly based in Tanzania, groups opposition forces from the DRC, Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda, according to the DRC newspaper 'La Reference Plus'. Another leader is reportedly Leonard Nyangoma, head of Burundi's rebel Conseil national pour la defense de la democratie (CNDD), dedicated to the overthrow of the Tutsi-led government in Bujumbura. Africa Confidential also recently reported that another Bembe-dominated opposition group -- the Conseil de resistance et de liberation du Kivu -- was recently set up in Kigoma. In Fizi, the rebels are thought to be local people in alliance with Burundian Hutus from the CNDD's armed wing, the Front pour la defense de la democratie (FDD), supplemented by some former soldiers from Rwanda's defeated Hutu-run army, the Forces Armees Rwandaises (FAR), and their hardline allies from the Interahamwe militia. A few stragglers from the defeated Forces Armees Zairoises (FAZ) of former Zairean president Mobutu Sese Seko could also be involved. One leader of the Fizi group, and reputed to be a founding member of the DRA, has taken the name of Simba and is known as Charles Simba.

Regional experts say many local rebel groups, resentful at the dominance of the Banyarwanda Tutsis within Kabila's army, could use the name 'Simba' and have little or no contact with each other. 'Simba' -- meaning 'lion' and implying strength -- has been employed by several rebel groups over the years in former Zaire and was the name of 1960s rebellion, in which Kabila played a leading role and which held Kisangani for a short while before central government reimposed its writ.

Regional sources say there is currently no evidence the groups in Fizi and Masisi are coordinating their attacks. Both areas are in fact now home to several distinct rebel movements which may occasionally clash as well as fight alongside each other. Consequently, they say it is not possible at the moment to gauge whether the current unrest poses a serious threat to the new government. Much of the region is now a no-go area for UN personnel. UN staff in Goma are not allowed to move outside the town. In Goma, a UN curfew is also in operation from 23.00 hours to five am local time. No curfew is in place in Bukavu, but over the weekend NGOs reported several attacks on vehicles using the main Bukavu-Uvira link road. The sources also report the military commander of Bukavu airport and his bodyguard were killed in an attack lasting several hours on the night of September 4-5. It was not clear who was responsible for the attack. Local sources say forces from the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA) currently hold the airport. Increasing tensions between Congolese troops and RPA soldiers, who supported Kabila's Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (AFDL) takeover of the country, have also been cited as one of the causes of growing insecurity in the area. The shooting in Goma appeared to coincide with the arrival of 10th brigade Congolese troops allegedly to replace Rwandan soldiers.

Under the headline, "War resumed with a vengeance in the East", the DRC daily 'Le Palmares' newspaper also reported the Mai Mai -- made up of Hunde, Tembo, Nande and Nyanga local 'autochtone' tribes with a long history of conflict with the Tutsi and Hutu people -- had launched an offensive against "Rwandan populations" in the Masisi area. Regional analysts say Congolese Tutsi support for both the AFDL and RPA has increased the suspicion of the 'autochtones' (original peoples of the region) within the Mai Mai towards the Congolese people of Rwandan origin. The paper reported another cause of their anger against the government as being the recent assassination of one of their leaders, Major Kara Mbengi, in Kololo camp in Kinshasa. The Congolese Press Agency (ACP) reported a delegation led by North Kivu provincial governor Leonard Kanyamuhunga Gafundi visited Masisi last week and called for calm and peaceful coexistence in the area.

The agency blamed the current "unstable" situation on a "few Mai Mai pockets of resistance". The agency also said the South Kivu governor had met a Mai Mai delegation in Bukavu on August 30 and a list of their grievances had been passed on to the provincial authorities. The agency said the Mai Mai delegation admitted to siding with Hutus from Rwanda's ex-army and militias in the Kalehe area, but had pledged to renounce all "underground activities".

Masisi has for several years been a hotbed of conflict between the Banyarwanda, who comprise both Hutus and Tutsis, and the 'autochtones' -- most of whom are from the Hunde ethnic group although Tengo and Yanga are also present. Between March and July 1993, serious fighting took place and some 14,000 Banyarwanda were killed while several thousand others fled to Rwanda. After the 1994 Rwandan genocide the local tribes -- infected by the propaganda of escaping Rwandan Hutu killers -- tended to target their attacks more on Banyarwanda Tutsis, prompting further exoduses. Indeed, another explanation for some of the current unrest has been the return of expelled Masisi Tutsis who -- helped by fellow Tutsi soldiers in the RPA -- have returned to reclaim their properties.

The conflicts in Masisi also played an important role in sparking the rebellion by South Kivu Tutsis which ultimately ousted Mobutu from power. In 1996, these Zairean Tutsis, known as the Banyamulenge, came under attack from both the Zairean army and local people. The Banyamulenge, keenly aware of the fate of their Masisi kinsmen, were well-prepared. They fought back and helped by their Rwandan army allies quickly secured control of the region. Forming alliances with other anti-Mobutu groups, including the Mai Mai, they swept through the country and installed Kabila in power in May 1997.

On Monday, Kabila warned he would not tolerate the reorganisation of anti-government forces. A report from the Rwanda News Agency, monitored by the BBC, quoted him as saying he would quickly take action to crush "islets of harmful forces which spilled blood in Rwanda (and) in our country (and) which are reorganising".

Nairobi, 10 September 1997


[Via the UN DHA Integrated Regional Information Network. The material contained in this communication may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. UN DHA IRIN Tel: +254 2 622123 Fax: +254 2 622129 e-mail: for more information. If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer. Quotations or extracts from this report should include attribution to the original sources mentioned, not simply "DHA".]

Date: Wed, 10 Sep 1997 12:17:29 -0300 (GMT+3) From: UN DHA IRIN - Great Lakes <> Subject: DRC: IRIN background brief on Kivu 10 Sep 1997 97.9.10 Message-ID: <>

Editor: Dr. Ali B. Ali-Dinar, Ph.D

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