KIGALI, 3 October 2007 (IRIN) – The UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC) has no evidence that the Congolese army has joined forces with outlawed Hutu and Mayi-Mayi militia groups to purge a rebellion by dissident army commander, Gen Laurent Nkunda, a spokesman for MONUC said on 3 October.
MONUC's military spokesman, Maj Gabriel de Brosses, was reacting to media reports indicating that a new alliance, known as the Front for the Liberation of North Kivu, was patrolling parts of eastern Congo alongside the army.
The government of the DRC has vowed to eliminate from its eastern provinces armed militiamen known as the Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda (FDLR), which include in their ranks some of the perpetrators of neighbouring Rwanda’s 1994 genocide.
There might be something happening at a local level but the army cannot afford to be associated with the FDLR
"We don't think such an alliance took place because the FDLR is one of the major problems that the DRC is facing,” De Brosses in a telephone interview. "There might be something happening at a very local level but … the FARDC [Congolese army] cannot afford to be associated with the FDLR."
However, observers and analysts have in recent weeks suggested that the demoralised and weakened regular army might be forced to turn to militias for support in crushing Nkunda's rebellion, which is centred in North Kivu province.
René Abanzi, a spokesman for Nkunda, said reports of the alliance between the Congolese army and the militias were true.
"[The alliance] is something that anyone can verify,” Abanzi said by telephone. “We are taking prisoners from the FDLR. They are being given uniforms. They are being given ammunition.”
The conflicting reports reflect growing confusion in the region, which has deepened since fighting erupted in late August between Nkunda’s National Congress for the People’s Defence and the Congolese army.
Nkunda broke ranks with the army in 2004, accusing Congo’s administration of failing to protect ethnic Tutsis in the region from attacks by Hutu militias.
Congolese officials say they are unable to hunt down the militias.
Aid groups and the UN note that civilians in eastern Congo have borne the brunt of the ongoing fighting, which has resulted in scores of deaths and the displacement of thousands of civilians.
Humanitarian organisations warn of a deepening crisis in the region while instability has prevented them from reaching thousands of civilians.
An estimated 90,000 people have fled fighting in the region since August, adding to about 650,000 already displaced in North Kivu during and after Congo’s 1998-2003 war.
That conflict, which began when Rwanda invaded eastern Congo to track down Hutu militias, claimed an estimated four million lives, mostly from hunger and disease, and embroiled the region, pulling in seven neighbouring nations.
MONUC is the largest peacekeeping mission in the world, comprising nearly 17,000 troops.