Reading 8: “3-Way Battles Again Jolt Eastern Congo”

The following news article was written by reporter Jeffrey Gettleman and published on page A3 of the international section of the New York Times on October 25, 2007.


NAIROBI, Kenya—Eastern Congo continues to be wracked by violence, UN officials said yesterday, and battles between rival militias are driving thousands of beleaguered villagers from their homes and complicating the government's efforts to strike a truce.

Sylvie van den Wildenberg, a UN spokeswoman in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, said a three-sided fight broke out this weekend among the Congolese government and two militias, one allied with government troops and the other fiercely independent. The government is now trying to disarm both militias, but it is not clear if either will submit.

The warfare has turned eastern Congo into a kill zone, and in the past few days tens of thousands of residents have fled. The number of displaced people in just one province, North Kivu, has swelled to more than 750,000.

"It's a catastrophe," van den Wildenberg said. ". . . All these people are running, and no one seems to know where to go."

After Hutu death squads exterminated hundreds of thousands of Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994, many culprits fled into the thickly forested hills of eastern Congo, next door. The Hutu militias have regrouped, and United Nations officials blame them for terrorizing civilians, especially women.

In the past few weeks fighting has raged between the Congolese Army and the forces of Laurent Nkunda, a dissident Tutsi general who has accused the Congolese Army of helping the Hutu militias, a charge the army denies. Nkunda says his men—and boys, because many are child soldiers—are simply protecting the Tutsis in Congo from being massacred.

Joseph Kabila, Congo's president, tried to negotiate with Nkunda. Then, a few weeks ago, Kabila gave him an ultimatum, threatening to wipe out his troops unless they turned in their guns or joined the national army. UN officials said more than 1,200 fighters defected to the government.

But then the Mai-Mai entered the equation. The Mai-Mai are a huge force of loosely organized Congolese militiamen, who have jumped into the fight on the side of the government, saying that Nkunda is a warlord.

On Saturday, as Nkunda's forces battled government troops near the Rwandan border, the Mai-Mai attacked Nkunda from a different direction. Heavy artillery boomed and senttens of thousands of villagers scattering in the rain. Kabila ordered the Mai-Mai to stand down, but they refused.

Source: Jeffrey Gettleman, "3-Way Battles Again Jolt Eastern Congo," New York Times, October 25, 2007.

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