War now at Rwanda’s doorstep

The day following the explosion of two bombs in the center of the city of Gisenyi, the Rwandan population remains in shock, especially since one of the regime’s hallmarks has always been security. The war has come home to roost, and fear drove the point home. In the streets of the Mudugudu neighborhood a civilian was killed, her child seriously wounded. People standing by a wall scarred by shrapnel pass comment on recent events. Their quiet demeanor contrasts sharply with the Congolese anger just right next door.

Everyone assures that, according to the motorcycle taxis parked by Lake Kibu who barely dodged another bomb, the Congolese army is firing the projectiles. They’re on the other side of the lake, trying to capture two M23 artillery positions. This observation is probably accurate, but meaningless. As a matter of fact, last November the rebels boasted that they had raided large ammunition stocks after having taken Goma. They also deny having received any support from Rwanda to date (this is contested by all the military observers), and they confirm that their weapons are all of government origin.

In the past, the Kivu war was waged almost covertly, and each side accused the other in succession of inhumane acts. Today, it’s harder to carry out a war by press communiques with the numerous foreign observers crawling all over Goma. The Security Council’s verdict was swift. In a firm resolution M23 was accused of having bombed its Rwandan ally’s territory. Why would such a poor neighborhood with a mixed population be attacked and the RCD area (Congolese Rally for Democracy), where the former leaders of the recent pro-Rwandan rebellion have built themselves lovely multi-story homes with little columns, remain untouched?

If it turns out that the shooting is coming from the M23, which is the consensus among the international community, the only explanation is that the rebels, who have been heavily pounded for six days, want to pressure the Rwandan army into exercising its right of pursuit to protect its territory and thus to openly come to their rescue.

Thursday afternoon the maneuver seemed to be on the point of succeeding. We saw an entire army on the road to Gisenyi on its way to the border. There were 20 semi-trailers each carrying two armored vehicles and 40 trucks transporting 50 soldiers each. When President Kagame met with the UN special representative to the Congo, Germany’s Martin Kobler, he did not hide his intention to defend his country’s territory and to smash any possible offensive by the Congolese forces allied with the Hutu rebels. Because Kigali won’t be deterred, he figures that the Congolese army facing the M23 is aligning with old enemies, the FDLR, the Hutu militia that committed the 1994 genocide.

Although Rwanda, a non-permanent member of the Security Council, was able to block a condemnation, the United Nations have convinced Kigali to remain arms at ready and to not cross the border. The Congolese forces, with Monusco’s assistance, are making their way toward Kibuma, right on the Rwandan border. Kibali was retaken by the Congolese army. Munitions trucks and bodies in underground prisons were found there.

COLETTE BRAECKMAN

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