DR Congo’s rebel kaleidoscope

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While the M23 rebels in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo have dominated headlines in recent months, they are just one of more than two dozen armed groups fighting in this resource-rich region.
A new report by the aid agency Oxfam, published along with a remarkable map, shows that the recent unrest in Goma – a strategically important trading city – is just the tip of an iceberg of human suffering.
The M23 rebels, named after a 23 March 2009 failed peace agreement that they claim to want to implement, captured Goma nearly two weeks ago, before withdrawing with their loot to positions just outside the city at the weekend.
Their campaign began in May 2012 when they mutinied from the national army. According to the United Nations, they had active assistance from Rwanda – which Kigali denies.
The M23 threat to the provincial capital Goma shuffled some of the military cards in areas far from the border region they control because United Nations and Congolese government army troops moved to Goma to counter them.
This left a security vacuum in other areas which smaller rebel groups exploited.
As the UN or the army moved out to reinforce areas under M23 threat, the smaller groups moved in, destabilising the situation further.
“Armed groups plunder money, food and whatever other resources they can find.”
In recent years, I have made numerous journeys through the Kivus and the kaleidoscope of armed groups you encounter is bewildering.
It is not unusual to come across two or three armed bands contesting the same stretch of road.
These groups often allow foreign journalists to pass through – it would draw too much attention to them to do otherwise.
But Congolese civilians are not so lucky. Oxfam cites the example of the small market town of Kashanga north-east of Goma which was attacked 12 times between April and July 2012.
The attackers were from the government army, and two other groups – the Patriotic Alliance for Free and Sovereign Congo (APCLS) and the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).
They were fighting over control of illegal taxes imposed on people attending the weekly market.
In a nearby area farmers said they had to pay the Mai Mai Nyatura group 1,000 Congolese francs ($1; £0.62) or two to three kilos of beans per person for the right to access their fields to tend crops.

A man from this region who asked not to be named said of the armed groups: “Anyone who resists them or who raises their voice is immediately killed.”
Across the Kivus there are estimated to be 767,000 displaced people.
“In the face of abuse and exploitation on this scale there is no room for apathy,” Ms Martel said.
“This is a humanitarian catastrophe on a massive scale and the world cannot continue to turn its back on this tragedy,” she said.
Too rich to care?
But whatever Oxfam’s well-meaning appeals, the truth is that many people around the world do indeed shrug off DR Congo’s woes.
The aid agency called on the Congolese government and UN peacekeepers in the country to respond to people paying the ultimate price for the conflict.

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