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Page last updated at 08:17 GMT, Friday, 27 February 2009

DR Congo outsources its military

One of many Ugandan soldiers in DR Congo to fight rebels at the request of the government in Kinshasa

By Mark Doyle
BBC News, DR Congo

The Democratic Republic of Congo - a country with the trappings of sovereignty but not much modern government or control outside the main cities - is waking up to its limitations.

DR Congo has invited in foreign armies to help deal with its lawless regions. It is a joint military operation that is highly unusual in Africa.

The militaries of three foreign countries - Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan - are now operating in or around the edges of DR Congo.

But unlike in previous times, the foreign armies have not invaded against the will of the authorities in the capital Kinshasa.

They were invited in by the Congolese government to deal with rebel movements that Kinshasa admits it - and the largest UN peacekeeping force in the world, in DR Congo - cannot handle.

To be accurate, the word "invited" is not quite right.

Map of rebel groups and neighboring nation's military operations in Democratic Republic of the Congo

Kinshasa was persuaded by United States pressure to accept the foreigners.

The US is allied to Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan - all of which, in various ways, are opposed to the US bogeyman in the region, the Islamist regime based in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum. (South Sudan is de facto quasi-independent from Khartoum after winning control of the south after a long war.)

The activities of the three African armies in DR Congo can be painted as "African solutions to African problems". The continent is tired of the UN failing to fix DR Congo.

But of course these are also self-interested actions. The foreign armies are dealing with their enemies who have been sucked into the virtual power vacuum in parts of DR Congo - and which therefore threaten stability.

The key visiting teams are:

RWANDA

The Rwandan army went into Congo's North and South Kivu Provinces a few months ago to deal with Rwandan ethnic Hutu rebels, the FDLR, who were chased into Congo after perpetrating the genocide in Rwanda in 1994.

Congolese soldier with the flag
The Congolese army flies the flag but cannot protect the population

(In fact, some of them were certainly involved in the genocide - while a majority of the current fighters are probably new opportunists plundering Congo's gold and other minerals.)

The FDLR used to be wartime allies of the Congolese government during the long conflict of the 1990s. That war was so widespread and sucked in so many countries it was dubbed "Africa's First World War".

But Kinshasa has now let the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan army in to deal with the Hutus - despite that army having invaded DR Congo twice in recent years.

The quid pro quo for Kinshasa's volte face is that Rwanda should arrest Congolese Tutsi rebel Laurent Nkunda (long considered by many to be a Rwandan puppet) and then "turn" his CNDP militia into Congolese army allies.

Rwanda arrested Gen Nkunda and is now twisting arms to make his former fighters less hostile to Kinshasa (but of course not hostile to Rwanda either).

The arrest was the easy part.

UGANDA

The Ugandan army went into the north-eastern DR Congo (Orientale Province) to smash the rebel Ugandan Lord's Resistance Army.

The LRA is an armed group whose leader Joseph Kony also claims mystical powers. He was chased out of Uganda and has taken refuge in DR Congo and South Sudan.

Local self-defence forces have been raised to protect villages from marauding rebels
Rebel attacks on civilians prompted villagers to raise self-defence forces

The LRA has been causing widespread terror among Congolese and Sudanese civilians. It exercises control through mass murder, rape and abductions - but it says its basic motivation is the defence of the marginalised northern Ugandan ethnic Acholi population.

The United States is widely believed to have helped plan and pay for the Ugandan anti-LRA operation in DR Congo. The LRA is on US proscribed terrorist lists.

An early part of the anti-LRA operation, planned for December 14 2008, was to to bomb the main LRA base in north-eastern DR Congo.

The plan failed to have its full effect, Ugandan officers say privately. Bad weather closed in that day, the officers say, when, it was believed, Joseph Kony and his senior aides were at the base.

One version says cloud cover and a botched air transport plan meant noisy helicopters were used for the bombing runs, not high-flying Migs which could have had the element of surprise.

Joseph Kony may have heard the choppers coming. Anyway, he seems to have got away from the base just a few minutes before the bombs dropped.

SOUTH SUDAN

The South Sudanese army (the victorious ex-rebels, not the Khartoum government) is also trying to deal with the LRA.

The LRA, despite claiming to want to rule Uganda by the Christian Ten Commandments, was nurtured by the Islamist regime in Khartoum to try to stop the southern Sudanese rebels (Sudan People's Liberation Army - SPLA) from winning the on-off 50 year north-south war.

But those southern Sudanese rebels did win against Khartoum. After they had done so they tried negotiating with the LRA for a while to make it go away.

The deal was that Mr Kony would be shielded from the indictment against him issued by the International Criminal Court in exchange for peace.

Mr Kony opted to stay in the bush. And now the South Sudanese have mostly given up talking and are going for a military solution against him.

The results so far

The Rwandans have pushed the Hutu rebels westward, deeper into the Congolese forests, and have also arrested a few middle-ranking rebels. They have persuaded some Hutu camp followers to go home to Rwanda.

Rwanda will be quite pleased with this so far. The Congolese are not so keen; the Hutus can still live off Congo - mining illegally, mounting roadblocks for taxes etc. But Kinshasa will at least be satisfied that Mr Nkunda has been neutralised, for now.

Congolese gold miners
DR Congo's rich gold reserves has attracted foreign armies in the past

The Ugandans, meanwhile, are continuing their 20-year hunt for Mr Kony, this time inside DR Congo's north-eastern Orientale Province.

The Congolese army is supposed to hold the southern parts of Orientale and the Sudanese are supposed to block the possible escape of Mr Kony's men through their border to the north.

The Ugandan army and air force do their business in between the two.

No great results here so far. In fact, some negative ones. Hundreds of Congolese were massacred by the LRA over the Christmas period in reprisal for the hunt against the rebels.

But even the UN humanitarian supremo John Holmes, decrying the massacres as a "catastrophic" result of the offensive, said the military operations have to be pressed home.

In the long run this sort of inter-African cooperation will certainly be necessary to counter cross border rebels.

The governments of Rwanda, Uganda, South Sudan and DR Congo all have some legitimacy (and are all backed by, for example, the US and the UK).

Both of the rebel groups concerned are reviled by most of the governments in the region and most of the rest of the world.

For this reason, any talk of all these operations being "over by the end of February" - as Kinshasa has said publically - should be taken with a large pinch of salt.

Everyone in the region knows that DR Congo can't cope with these lawless regions. Much of the Congolese army is dysfunctional.

Everyone also knows that, for all the decent things it may have done in DR Congo, the UN has failed to pacify the eastern part of the country.

Kinshasa has to say it wants the operations over because it is politically embarrassing for President Joseph Kabila to be seen to allow countries which once invaded DR Congo to stomp all over eastern regions.

But President Kabila is politically weak. Rwanda and Uganda, by contrast, are relatively are strong.

The fighting will continue. There may be some positive results in the long-term. Or it could all go horribly wrong.

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