Τρίτη, 18 Νοεμβρίου 2008

Rebels overrun DR Congo army base

Rebels overrun DR Congo army base
Nkunda is demanding direct talks with the government on Congo's future [AFP]
Rebel fighters in the Democratic Republic of Congo have overrun a government army base despite their leader's pledge to respect a ceasefire and engage in UN-backed peace talks.
The renewed offensive comes as France presented a draft resolution to the UN Security Council on Monday, seeking a "temporary increase" of 3,000 military and police personnel to bolster UN forces already in the country.The UN force, in place since 2001, is already the largest UN peacekeeping mission in the world, with 17,000 soldiers.Some 5,000 of them are deployed in eastern Congo, where the fighting intensified in recent weeks between the government forces of Joseph Kabila, the Congolese president, and rebel forces loyal to Laurent Nkunda, a renegade general. Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, had been urging the security council to beef up its presence in eastern Congo, where the fighting has created a humanitarian crisis.
On the front line in DR CongoMembers of the 15-nation council and Ileka Atoki, the Congo's UN ambassador, said last week that there was broad agreement to increase the force, and council diplomats said they expected a quick vote, probably this week. But UN officials and diplomats have cautioned that even with 3,000 additional troops and police, the force would have great difficulty fulfilling its mandate of protecting civilians because Congo is the size of Western Europe and North Kivu, where the current fighting is centred, is 1 1/2 times the size of France. Highlighting that difficulty, UN peacekeeping troops at Rwindi stayed at their base as fighting between rebels and the army continued nearby on Sunday despite a ceasefire. Rebels extend territory
Government troops abandoned their position late on Sunday at Rwindi, 130km north of Goma in DR Congo's Nord-Kivu province, after a battle with the rebels involving small arms and heavier weapons, witnesses said on Monday. Rebels loyal to Nkunda have continued to push north and extend territory under their control in North Kivu province despite a ceasefire agreement.
Congo is facing a humanitarian crisis sparked by weeks of fierce fighting [EPA]A peace initiative launched at the weekend by Olusegun Obasanjo, the UN special envoy and former Nigerian president, is aimed at ending weeks of fighting in North Kivu, which has displaced a quarter of a million civilians. Obasanjo also met Kabila and his Rwandan counterpart Paul Kagame in a bid to stop the conflict from escalating into a repeat of the 1998-2003 Congo war that killed several million people. A UN peacekeeper at Rwindi, who declined to be identified, told the Reuters news agency Nkunda's National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) forces had started advancing against government troops on Sunday. "At 7pm, there was firing from both sides ... small-arms fire and long range heavy calibre weapons passing over our base in both directions ... By morning, the CNDP was here," he said. The road into Rwindi was littered with military boots and blankets. In the town, a ranger post for the Virunga National Park, rebel fighters manned checkpoints abandoned by the army. To the north, sporadic gunshots rang out that peacekeepers said were probably fired by hungry soldiers poaching animals. -

For the men of the Congolese Army's 18th Integrated Commando Brigade, life on the frontline in eastern Congo's North Kivu Province is anything but stable.The Congo army troops - the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo, or FARDC - are notorious for their brutal behaviour and have been accused of rapes and looting by the United Nations.In the African state's latest eruption of war, only one thing is for certain - there can be no rest.Infighting, insubordination, drunken fights while armed and on duty and smoking marijuana cigarettes are all means of passing time in-between facing death in fierce, pitched battles with fighters from the National Congress for the Defence of the People, or CNDP."We want to end this war so we can back home to Kinshasa," said corporal Boniface Ajbebjou, 32, "I hate them."As he spoke, two of his fellow soldiers were drinking whiskey and smoking pot. "Idiots," he said in disgust.Watching the enemy
The warring sides are within a few hundred metres of each other.Less than half-a-kilometre up the road at a checkpoint held by the rebel forces, two of Ajbebjou's comrades lie splayed out in the middle of the road with gun shot wounds in their skulls – the result of combat the previous night.Captain Alex Kaninda Kazadi, 38, the commander of the brigade's First Company, 182nd Battalion, knows this full well and has to remind his men – by means of a kick in the behind and stern finger in the face – that the enemy is watching."Watch them back," he barks."I can't reveal how many men I have lost so far," he told Al Jazeera. "All I know is I don't want to lose any more."This is a tit-for-tat war with no-holds-barred sentiments towards those onthe other side.
Gruesome 'calling card'Just a few nights before, rebel forces had stormed their positions in Kayanja,just north of the refugee village of Kibati in Congo's east, but ended uplosing ground under a hail of bullets, mortar shells, heavy artillery and rockets.FARDC soldiers argue during a downpour at a front line checkpointCaptain Kazadi's soldiers caught one of the rebels, who they claim was a Rwandan soldier.They hacked off his genitals, nose and a hand and left him in the bush by theside of the road to be eaten by dogs.It was their revenge in return for the members of their unit who the rebels had shot in the head and left in the road in the no-man's land as a "calling card" - a form of psychological intimidation.There is little solace to soothe the the horror of the psychological warfare these men wage against each other.Criminality rife
With junior soldiers saying they earn less than $250 a month and their officers receiving under $600, they beg journalists for cigarettes and handouts.They eat rice out of their metal helmets when they are not lucky enough to get their hands on biscuits and tins of beans and sardines and some dirty water to wash it all down.Criminality is rife among the ranks of junior soldiers, many of whom were former rebels who fought the Congo army they now serve in during the Second Congo War that began 10 years ago.ith this round of war in eastern Congo entering the peak of the rain season, soldiers sleep in mud in the wet jungle, their clothes and bodies drenched most of the time. Their supplies of water are unreliable.Getting high or drunk seems to be the one way they get through their ordeal.They send motorcycle taxis with wads of pooled cash to the rear of the front line about twice a day to pick up their vices."I don't panic – I don't care," a belligerent young soldier slurs repeatedly in English.onstant infighting
Captain Kazadi shakes his head as the other troops laugh. "I can't control every one of them all of the time," he said."It's the lieutenant's jobs to keep them in line, but I end up having tomanage everything."Fights commonly break out between Kazadi's men – including the officers - and the captain often steps in to pull them apart."So what?" says 24-year-old corporal Kaseleka Ndagise as he grimaces in pain froma twisted knee he got while wrestling with a fellow soldier.
"We fight with each other, but this is the way we are."e points up the road towards the rebel positions: "It doesn't mean we aren't ready for them."The FARDC is largely a new concept in Congo, having been created in 2004 as a part of the country's restructuring following the previous conflict that sucked in eight other countries and left millions of people dead.One of Kazadi's troops, wearing a woman's wig (many fighters in Africa wear women's items or clothes as a good-luck charm) and wielding an AK-47 assault rifle along with a loaded, rocket-propelled grenade launcher, said he was ready to get "the pigs," a reference to the fighters of rebel leader general Laurent Nkunda's CNDP rebel government.But with the soldiers' morale so poor, it is difficult to see how it can hope to win its campaign against the rebel forces.

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