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Military changes come to the Kivus, slowly

Over the past several months, the Congolese army has been slowly reconfiguring its units in the Kivus. Eventually, the changes may lead to an end of Amani Leo operations and the weakening of some ex-CNDP units made up of Nkunda loyalists, as well as the ex-PARECO units.

In part, these changes involve consolidating dispersed battalions into « regiments, » which are about the size of brigades. Some of these regiments are in the process of being deployed outside of the Kivus, although others may be replacing them. The changes will also return military authority to the 8th and 10th military regions based in Goma and Bukavu, respectively, as Amani Leo commanders are deployed elsewhere in the country. The currently military commanders of these two military regions, Cols. Mayala and Masunzu, are also rumored to be replaced.

The first phase of this restructuring has begun and will last until the end of April. In will involve at least two brigades in each South and North Kivu. These brigades will gather in integration sites to undergo restructuring and training. According to UN sources, the four brigades selected are the 133rd and 212th in North Kivu, and the 241st and 512th in South Kivu. All of the brigades have substantial ex-PARECO and ex-CNDP components. The second phase will then begin in May and involved other brigades.

These developments will have several consequences. First of all, it will impact the integration of the CNDP and PARECO. Many of the units that are being moved around within the Kivus are led by ex-CNDP commanders, in particular the Nkunda loyalist wing of the ex-CNDP. This was the case for the 133rd brigade, which had been deployed close to the strategically important Ugandan border at Ishasha (it has been replaced by the Bosco-loyalist 132nd brigade), as well as for the 212nd brigade.

Some UN analysts see this as a test run for deploying units composed of Hutu (PARECO) and Tutsi (CNDP) outside of the Kivus, a move that these fighters have long resisted. As worries persist in Rwanda about a potential alliance between various armed groups in the Kivus and Rwandan dissidents, pressure has grown to move CNDP and PARECO units out of the Kivus. The first to go is the regiment led by ex-CNDP commander Lt. Col. Munyakazi, currently based in Beni. Munyakazi is a Congolese Tutsi, but is not known to be close to the Nkunda wing (he is also one of the only CNDP officers in the brigade).

However, many un-integrated battalions, especially those loyal to Bosco Ntaganda, are apparently not affected, and there will probably be fierce resistance by ex-CNDP units if they are forced to move substantial numbers outside of the Kivus. The current integration deals that are being negotiated, including those with the FRF in South Kivu, entail some guarantees that the ex-insurgents will not be immediately deployed outside of the province. And while Amani Leo will probably fizzle out eventually, its staff includes many ex-CNDP officers (including Bosco) who would be left jobless, which could also destabilize the situation.

In a related vein, there are persistent reports again of Rwandan units in the Kivus to ensure the smooth deployment of these ex-CNDP units.

Secondly, and a possible positive consequence of these changes, the total troop number in the Kivus may decrease, which would have a positive effect of the living conditions of civilians who have been living under the thumb of the military for many years. This will depend on whether they manage to redeploy regiments without replacing them. Officially, there are 34,000 Congolese troops in North Kivu alone, but many of these are bound to be « ghost soldiers » intended to bloat the payrolls of their commanding officers.

However, and this is the downside, the realignment will leave civilians in some areas at the mercy of the FDLR and other non-state armed groups. Already, the FDLR have moved into some areas vacated by the Congolese army.

In sum, the military realignment in the Kivus is primarily intended in the short-term to test ex-CNDP units close to Nkunda and may eventually bring about a drawdown in the overall deployments in the East.

[This posting was slightly changed since its initial publication.]

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