Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Kivu Peace Deal Failing to Deliver
Villagers say the peace deal meant to end violence in Congo’s North Kivu province has yet to deliver on its promises.
Dozens of warring militia groups signed the January 23 agreement in the provincial capital Goma, pledging to put down their weapons and demobilise. But nearly two months later, those displaced by the fighting say the troubled eastern province continues to be gripped by violence and insecurity.
“I believe that participants of the conference fooled us,” said one man who told IWPR his family were recently attacked by men loyal to the rebel leader Laurent Nkunda. Only two weeks earlier, they had returned home from a camp for internally displaced people, IDPs, after being assured it was safe.
“If they agreed to stop the war, why then are we still getting constantly attacked? Where is the peace that they promised us? They went to have fun in Goma, that’s all. When will there be an end to this miserable life of destitution and wandering?”
Those displaced by the fighting told IWPR that the peace deal is being violated by all sides, with clashes between Nkunda’s troops and various Mai Mai militia groups occurring regularly. They say attacks by rebels against villagers, including sexual violence, are also still common.
The continuing violence means that some IDPs have refused to go home
A 65-year-old man told IWPR that he’s afraid to leave a camp for displaced people in the North Kivu town of Rutshuru. He says those who stuck it out in his home village of Nyanzale are now fleeing continuing harassment, rape and pillaging by armed groups.
“The act of engagement signed by different parties to the conference on peace, security and development in the Kivu is one thing, its implementation is another thing,” said the man who lives with six family members in the camp. He describes his state of mind as sad, mentioning his lost fields and domestic animals and his journey into exile.
Despite the violations of the Goma agreement, the leaders of the rebel groups insist they remain committed to peace. A spokesperson for Nkunda’s National Congress for the Defence of the People, CNDP, said, “We are committed to act according to what we have signed.” However, a representative of the Pareco Mai Mai group said peace depends on whether the CNDP stays out of its territory.
The United Nations estimates some 800,000 people have been displaced by fighting in North Kivu province since last year. Only a tiny percentage - about 40,000 - live in camps run by the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, at Mugunga, Bulengo and Buhimba. The rest are in makeshift shelters or scattered with family and friends around the province.
A UNHCR spokesman said that despite the peace deal most people are staying in camps for now, waiting to see if the situation stablises before going back to their villages. “They want to see some return to normalisation before heading home,” said Andrej Mahecic. “They’ve seen many peace agreements before so for now they’re going to sit and wait.”
Ami Muhima, president of the IDP committee in Buhimba, says many are there for the sixth or seventh time. “Should we return to our villages for an eighth flight?” said Muhima. “This has already happened seven times since 2006.”
But conditions are bad. UNHCR says the general lawlessness and insecurity in the east has spilled over into the camps with sexual assaults and general crime a serious problem for those who’ve taken shelter there.
Vicky Nkoji, who works at Bulengo, told IWPR that the refugee crisis has also had an impact on the local population, with even those who aren’t displaced coming to the camps for food. “Poverty is leading the Goma population to sponge off the displaced persons when there is an [aid] distribution,” said Nkoji.
IWPR interviewed a 53-year-old widow in her ruined home in the village of Rukoro. She went home because life was unbearable in the Rutshuru soccer stadium where hundreds of IDPs have gathered in makeshift accommodation. She has six children and says that since returning, she has been threatened by men in military uniforms who say there is no one to stop them hurting her.
“I’ve just spent at least three months there, but I received help only once a week. I received three kilos of beans, half a bottle of vegetable oil and fifty kilos of corn flour although I have such a big family,” she said. “That’s why I went back, even if it’s not safe at Rukoro.”
Another Rukoro resident is also finding life difficult. “We are between the devil and the deep blue sea,” said the man who recently married and says he is struggling to protect his wife. “These men that you see in front of you some two hundred metres from the river are Nkunda’s soldiers. They’re getting drunk very easily and they take women who are not hiding.
“When we go to the market or visit our friends, they take all what we have. What have we done to be subjected to this?”
The prospect of justice for their attackers - even far away at the International Criminal Court, ICC, in The Hague - offers some comfort for those living under such terrible conditions. Many believe that without justice, the victims and their tormentors will struggle to ever live together in peace. “They must be tried at the ICC like Thomas Lubanga,” said Amani Amahoro, a Mugunga IDP.
Charles Ntiricya and Taylor Toeka Kakala are IWPR contributors in Goma. Lisa Clifford is an international justice reporter in The Hague.
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