Who is be­hind new hor­rors in Congo?

In the Ka­sai re­gion, eth­nic ri­vals of a rebel group form a new mili­tia that bru­tal­izes even ba­bies

Los Angeles Times - - NEWS - By Robyn Dixon robyn.dixon@la­times.com Twit­ter: @RobynDixon_LAT

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — They killed ev­ery­one they could find in the re­mote vil­lage of Cinq. They used guns and ma­chetes and set ba­bies and preg­nant women on fire. They at­tacked the clinic and killed 90 pa­tients and med­i­cal staff.

The April 24 at­tack was car­ried out by one of Africa’s new­est armed mili­tias: the Bana Mura.

The group has de­stroyed at least 20 vil­lages in the Ka­sai re­gion of the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo over the last two months, ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions.

In a state­ment Tues­day, the United Na­tions com­mis­sioner for hu­man rights, Zeid Raad Hus­sein, called the re­gion a “land­scape of hor­ror.”

Here is what you need to know about the cri­sis threat­en­ing to plunge the coun­try into a new civil war:

Who are the Bana Mura?

Last year, an anti-gov­ern­ment rebel group named Ka­muina Ns­apu sprang up in the op­po­si­tion-dom­i­nated Ka­sai re­gion. As the in­sur­rec­tion spread, hu­man rights groups ac­cused both the rebels and the Con­golese army of com­mit­ting atroc­i­ties.

In re­cent months, a new mili­tia ap­peared, calling it­self the Bana Mura. Filled with eth­nic ri­vals of the Ka­muina Ns­apu, the mili­tia ap­pears to have been cre­ated, armed and sup­ported by the gov­ern­ment, ac­cord­ing to Hus­sein, the U.N. hu­man rights com­mis­sioner.

In the last two months, the Bana Mura car­ried out hor­rific at­tacks on vil­lages aligned with the rebels, he said.

“My team saw chil­dren as young as 2 whose limbs had been chopped off. Many ba­bies had ma­chete wounds and se­vere burns,” Hus­sein said.

“One 2-month-old baby seen by my team had been hit by two bul­lets four hours after birth. The mother was also wounded. At least two preg­nant women were sliced open and their fe­tuses mu­ti­lated.”

He said wit­nesses tes­ti­fied that mem­bers of the Con­golese armed forces and po­lice ac­com­pa­nied the Bana Mura dur­ing its at­tacks and that gov­ern­ment agents or of­fi­cials had armed and di­rected the group.

Forty-two mass graves were found and two U.N. in­ves­ti­ga­tors, in­clud­ing an Amer­i­can, were killed. Will the deaths be in­ves­ti­gated?

The U.N., Hu­man Rights Watch and other groups have called for an in­de­pen­dent in­ter­na­tional in­quiry into the mas­sacres, and the U.N. Hu­man Rights Coun­cil last week au­tho­rized such an in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

But the Con­golese gov­ern­ment has re­jected that idea as a threat to its sovereignty, and with­out its co­op­er­a­tion any in­ves­ti­ga­tion is un­likely to get far.

Hu­man rights ad­vo­cates want to ex­am­ine the mass killings as well as the slay­ings of U.N. in­ves­ti­ga­tors Michael Sharp of the U.S. and Zaida Cata­lan of Swe­den, who were kidnapped and killed in March with their Con­golese in­ter­preter, Betu Tsh­in­tela, and driver, Isaac Kabuayi.

The U.N. is con­duct­ing its own in­ves­ti­ga­tion into that in­ci­dent. The Con­golese gov­ern­ment has re­leased video to sup­port its claim that the rebels were re­spon­si­ble, but there are doubts about its au­then­tic­ity.

How many peo­ple have died in the fight­ing?

Be­cause of the vi­o­lence, it has been dif­fi­cult to ac­cess parts of the Ka­sai re­gion to as­sess ca­su­al­ties. The Catholic Church used re­ports from its parishes to pro­duce the first com­pre­hen­sive count: 3,383 dead since Oc­to­ber.

In a dossier re­leased Mon­day, the church said some of the at­tacks were car­ried out by gov­ern­ment forces and some by mili­tia groups. More than 3,800 houses have been de­stroyed, it said.

The death toll is sure to rise. Al­though the Ka­sai fight­ing has been go­ing on since Au­gust, there has been no sign of peace ne­go­ti­a­tions to end the rapidly spread­ing con­flict.

“There is no peace process,” said Stephanie Wolters, an an­a­lyst on the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo with the Pre­to­ri­abased In­sti­tute for Se­cu­rity Stud­ies in South Africa. “It will have to hap­pen. But the gov­ern­ment will not want to re­lin­quish con­trol over that process and that will de­lay and fur­ther es­ca­late the sit­u­a­tion.”

President Ka­bila’s term ex­pired in De­cem­ber but he still clings to power. What has been the im­pact?

One fam­ily has ruled the na­tion since 1997, when dic­ta­tor Mobutu Sese Seko was top­pled by Lau­rent Ka­bila. He was as­sas­si­nated in 2001 and suc­ceeded by his son, Joseph Ka­bila, who re­mains in of­fice in vi­o­la­tion of term lim­its set out in the con­sti­tu­tion.

The fam­ily’s vast busi­ness in­ter­ests help ex­plain why it is re­luc­tant to give up power, Wolters said.

The gov­ern­ment de­layed elec­tions last year, say­ing that 18 months were needed for the voter-reg­is­tra­tion process. It now prom­ises elec­tions by the end of 2017, though it has made lit­tle progress to­ward that goal.

Late last year, when the op­po­si­tion held protests in the cap­i­tal, Kinshasa, over Ka­bila’s re­fusal to leave of­fice, se­cu­rity forces re­sponded with vi­o­lence, leav­ing dozens dead.

Mean­while, ef­forts to ne­go­ti­ate a tran­si­tional gov­ern­ment have had lit­tle suc­cess, and Ka­bila has ap­pointed his own prime min­is­ter and gov­ern­ment.

Ka­bila has al­ways strug­gled to con­trol the coun­try, with its sprawl­ing geog­ra­phy, ter­ri­ble roads and myr­iad armed groups, but his lack of le­git­i­macy has fur­ther weak­ened his con­trol, ac­cord­ing to Wolters.

“The im­pres­sion about Kinshasa is that it is cling­ing to power and is will­ing to take the coun­try with it,” she said.

As Ka­bila’s le­git­i­macy has waned, signs of chaos have spread across the coun­try. Last month, about 4,200 pris­on­ers, in­clud­ing high se­cu­rity of­fend­ers, broke out of prison in Kinshasa.

“The dis­pro­por­tion­ate re­sponse of the army in Ka­sai, the dis­pro­por­tion­ate re­sponse in Kinshasa to the op­po­si­tion protests, th­ese are all signs of a regime that knows it doesn’t have many choices left,” Wolters said. “It’s all signs of end-of-regime des­per­a­tion.”

What do the Con­golese peo­ple want?

Con­golese ci­ti­zens want elec­tions as soon as pos­si­ble and for Ka­bila to leave power, ac­cord­ing to a na­tion­wide poll con­ducted in May by the Congo Re­search Group at New York Univer­sity.

It found that 24% of peo­ple ap­prove of Ka­bila and that 83% sup­port a deal be­tween the gov­ern­ment and op­po­si­tion par­ties in De­cem­ber to hold elec­tions by the end of the year.

Ka­bila has lagged be­hind prom­i­nent op­po­si­tion fig­ures in other sur­veys by the group.

The death of Eti­enne Tshisekedi, a vet­eran leader of the main op­po­si­tion party, the Union for Democ­racy and So­cial Progress, in Brus­sels in Fe­bru­ary has di­vided and weak­ened the op­po­si­tion and fu­eled un­cer­tainty over whether Ka­bila will leave of­fice peace­fully. The gov­ern­ment has not al­lowed his body to be repa­tri­ated, per­haps out of fear that the re­turn would spark new op­po­si­tion protests.

“Peo­ple con­tinue to protest against Ka­bila. That’s not go­ing away,” Wolters said. “It’s very clear that the gov­ern­ment lacks le­git­i­macy. There’s still no electoral cal­en­dar. There’s still no lan­guage about Ka­bila leav­ing of­fice.”

John Wes­sels AFP/Getty Images

A BOY from the Ka­sai re­gion awaits his daily food ra­tion at a camp for the in­ter­nally dis­placed in Kik­wit, Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo. The Catholic Church re­ports that 3,383 have died in at­tacks since Oc­to­ber.

Ju­nior D. Kan­nah AFP/Getty Images

PRESIDENT Joseph Ka­bila re­mains in of­fice in vi­o­la­tion of term lim­its set out in the con­sti­tu­tion. As Ka­bila’s le­git­i­macy has waned, signs of chaos have spread.

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