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Fears of wide-spread violence as Bosco stand-off continues

The situation in the Kivus remains tense as the personal future of one military commander, Bosco Ntaganda, has escalated latent tensions within the poorly integrated Congolese army.

The stand-off appears to have begun last week, with Bosco Ntaganda publishing a memorandum and mobilizing civilians members of the local Tutsi community in Goma to meet with the United Nations, the Rwandan government. They also read a statement condemning Bosco’s indictment by the ICC on various local radio stations. All of this, in turn, appears to have been triggered by sabre-rattling by the ICC and donors regarding Bosco, as well as by the departure of five ex-CNDP officers to a seminar in Kinshasa.

Bosco felt under pressure and took the offensive, telling Col. Felix Mugabo, the deputy commander (and his former chief bodyguard) of the 804th regiment based just to the north of Goma to reinforce his protection unit in Goma, and to send the rest of his troops further north to Katale. At the same time, ex-CNDP troops far to the west in the forests of Pinga withdrew to the highlands of Masisi, consolidating their strong position in ex-CNDP heartland.

This escalation in turn seems to have triggered a strong reaction from Kinshasa, although more so in South Kivu than around Goma. On Sunday, Congolese army troops confronted several ex-PARECO (a former majority Hutu armed group that integrated at the same time as the CNDP in 2009) commanders who are suspected to be close to Bosco. While circumstances are still murky, Congolese army troops appear to have attacked Col. Burimasu in in Lulimba (Fizi territory) and Col. Kifaru in Kabamba (Kalehe). There are reports that Col. Saddam and Col. Bernard Byamungu, who are also suspected to be close to Bosco, were attacked around Uvira yesterday and fled.

Other defections (as comments in the previous post suggest) have taken place from ex-CNDP units in Baraka and Uvira.

In Kinshasa, some security officials appear to be chomping at the bit and feel that “enough is enough.” Today, part of a battalion of special forces arrived in Goma from their training camp in Kindu (where the Belgian army had been training them). No one suggests, however, that Bosco is to be arrested, and the army spokesman in the East keep insisting that the troubles are over. The commander of the land force, Gen. Amisi, has been on a tour of the East, but it is unclear whether he is there to escalate or defuse tensions.

The ex-CNDP and ex-PARECO, for their part, insist this has nothing to do with Bosco, but rather with salaries and ranks – they say they are marginalized in the army, an allegation many other officers scoff at, given the prominence of these rwandophone officers in the current operations.

That is unlikely at the moment. When I spoke with a Congolese colonel in Goma this afternoon he was worried that Bosco’s troops in Masisi could attack Goma or Sake “to make a point.” In any case, Bosco does not seem to control many of the ex-CNDP commanders, especially those like Col. Gahizi and Col. Kabundi who went to the Kinshasa seminar, and would be unlikely to succeed in a full-fledged rebellion. At the same time, he has been able to stitch together a formidable, if shaky, alliance of ex-PARECO and ex-CNDP commanders through co-option and intimidation over the past years, and he personally has a lot to lose.

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