- I hope that newspapers do not represent public opinion.
If they do, it means that we consider the Home Secretary's love affair
more important than the resumption of the most deadly conflict since the
second world war. On Sunday, the civil war in the Democratic Republic of
Congo (DRC), already responsible for 3.8 million deaths, started again.
If you missed it, you're in good company.
- The Rwandan army appears to have crossed back into
DRC. Rival factions of the Congolese army - some of them loyal to Rwanda
- have started fighting each other. As usual, it's the civilians who are
being killed - and raped and tortured and forced to flee into the forest.
Last week, before the fighting resumed, the International Rescue Committee
reported that over 1,000 people a day are still dying from disease and
malnutrition caused by the last conflict. Nearly half of them are children
- Rwanda has already invaded the DRC (or Zaire, as it used
to be called), twice. In both cases it appeared to have justification.
The Interahamwe militias who had killed 800,000 Rwandans fled there after
the genocide in 1994. They were sheltered first by President Mobutu, then
by President Kabila. They wanted to reinvade Rwanda and resume the
- But after moving into the eastern DRC for the second
time, in 1998, Rwanda more or less forgot about the genocidaires. It had
found something more interesting: minerals. Better armed than the other
forces in the region, the Rwandan army concentrated on seeking to
the trade in diamonds and coltan. By 1999, according to a report for the
UN security council, 80% of the Rwandan military budget - around $320m
a year - was coming from minerals stolen from the DRC.
- The six African armies that had been drawn into the
their proxy militias and the government of the DRC started fighting a
turf war over the mines. Millions of people fled their homes. Thousands
were captured and forced to mine or to work as prostitutes. Rwanda's
was by far the most efficient. It was controlled directly from the capital,
Kigali, according to Amnesty International. Even after 2002, when the
officially withdrew, the Rwandan government left its men in the eastern
DRC to continue running the mines. The latest invasion appears to be a
thinly-disguised attempt to deal with the militias which threaten its
- Though we are rightly exercised about the atrocities
in Darfur, it is hard to find anyone who gives a damn about the Congo.
This is partly because we are used to seeing the Rwandan government forces
as the good guys - the people who first suffered at the hands of the
and then drove them out of their country. It's hard to adjust to the fact
that good guys can become bad ones, harder still to recognise that they
can become some of the world's bloodiest war criminals.
- Those who believe that Paul Kagame's government can do
no wrong concentrate their attacks on a report published in 2002 by the
UN. They allege that it has been subject to power-play between the members
of the security council. But they fail to explain why Amnesty
Human Rights Watch, the International Crisis Group, Global Witness, the
British all-party parliamentary group and the US state department have
all, independently, come to the same conclusions.
- The reports produced by these bodies run to hundreds
of pages, full of eye-witness accounts and the direct testimony of both
survivors and perpetrators. They make horrifying reading. They state that
troops have repeatedly raped children as young as three; have sliced off
the genitals of women who resist being raped; have forced women and
to work in terrifying conditions in the mines: scores have been buried
alive. They have torched villages, looted homes, killed those who resist
or those who appear to have helped the other side, and forced millions
to flee into the jungle. Most of the 3.8 million have died of malnutrition
and disease; but had the marauding armies filled them with lead, they could
scarcely have had greater responsibility for their deaths.
- The reports give the names of both agents and victims,
the dates of the crimes, the precise locations, the value of the stolen
resources and the names of the people and companies who bought them. It
is very hard to see how they could all be disputed.
- Some, such as the Africa specialist and former Guardian
journalist Victoria Brittain, have argued in these pages that Rwanda's
critics have confused "the disciplined Rwandan army and the chaotic
rebel groups". While all the armed forces who have fought in the DRC
since 1998 have committed atrocities, the Rwandan army is named in the
documents again and again. The US state department, for example, summarises
"numerous credible reports" of regular Rwandan troops
torturing, or raping" people in north and south Kivu and northern
- It is not easy to see, anyway, where the moral difference
lies between killing people and commissioning others to do so on your
Rwanda's proxy, the RCD-Goma militia, has committed innumerable atrocities
all over the east. The Rwandan government is directly responsible for both
its formation and its survival. In June this year, Global Witness reported
that "the RCD was put together in Kigali [the Rwandan capital] rather
than in the Congo" and "still remained highly dependent on its
Rwandan backers to finance its military deployment in the region".
Amnesty International reports that the Rwandan army supplied this force
with "rocket launchers, armoured cars, machine guns, light artillery,
mortars and landmines".
- None of the reports disputes that the DRC's government
in Kinshasa has also been responsible for crimes against humanity in the
east of the country. But in much of this region, its writ hardly runs.
As a UN report leaked to the BBC last week confirms, Rwanda and its proxy
militias are the most powerful forces in the eastern DRC. They control
most of the minerals trade and have been involved in almost all the
- Rwanda could have wiped out the Interahamwe - which is
now a much smaller and weaker force than it used to be - years ago. As
the International Crisis Group points out, "Rwanda had exclusive and
total military control over the eastern half of the Congo between 1996
and 2002 and failed to neutralise and repatriate all its nationals."
Instead, it has repeatedly used its presence as an excuse to occupy the
mineral-rich regions. As the British parliamentary group reports, the
army was often "located in areas where the Interahamwe did not exist,
or were at least 50km away." In some places, the army has even formed
alliances with the Interahamwe to control the mines. Now, using the old
excuse, the Rwandan government is dragging the eastern Congo back into
- It would not be hard for the international community
to defuse the world's most deadly conflict. Rwanda is a tiny, frail state,
which would collapse without foreign aid, over one third of which comes
from Britain. But nothing will happen until we wake up to this dreadful
war, and stop pretending that the victims of atrocious crimes cannot also
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