By Olive Mukahirwa
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa paid a two-day official visit to Kinshasa in early July to discuss a possible security agreement between the two countries which would result in sending South African soldiers to the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. President Félix Tshisekedi welcomed the arrangement, which he said would increase his government’s capacity to curb rebel groups, which he says are behind the insecurity in the eastern region of the country.
United Nations peacekeeping troops have been in DR Congo for more than 20 years, and a standby brigade has been deployed since August 2022. But the eastern part of the country continues to suffer from violence, which has been the case for decades.
Also in early July, eight people, including five women and two children, were killed in an attack carried out in Bungushu, a village in the eastern part of the country. The Congolese government pointed a finger at the rebel group M23 for the attack.
A Human Rights Watch report confirms that violence from M23 against civilians is made possible by support from the neighboring Rwandan army. Defense Minister Jean-Pierre Bemba of DR Congo recently said Rwandan Defense Forces and the M23 are planning to take over the city of Goma. President Paul Kagame of Rwanda has consistently denied allegations that his government supports the M23 rebel group.
In June, an attack killed 46 civilians, including 23 children, in Ituri Refugee Camp in Djugu territory. The armed group Coopérative pour le développement du Congo (CODECO) – said to have been created to protect the Lendu tribe against a rival tribe, Hema – is widely believed to be behind the attack, though they do not claim responsibility. The group used firearms and machetes to kill people and burn their shelters in Ituri Refugee Camp, located 5 kilometers away from the United Nations peacekeepers’ base. Conflicts between Lendu and Hema tribes in Ituri have been ongoing since the end of 2017, and have caused the death of thousands of civilians and the displacement of more than 1.5 million people.
Jean-Pierre LaCroix, the Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations at the United Nations, who is in charge of restoring peace in DR Congo, visited the refugees in Ituri camp on June 7 and said, “The UN troops that have been here for more than 20 years … should remain, especially for the safety of the refugees, because if they leave, it could be a serious security gap for refugee camps.”
LaCroix said that between the end of 2022 and May 2023, more than 500 civilians have been killed by armed groups in Ituri province. According to LaCroix, the area has been neglected by security authorities as all eyes have been on the fighting between M23 rebel groups and the Congolese government.
The UN reports that between April 15 and May 15, approximately 70,000 people were displaced within Ituri territory due to armed violence in the surrounding areas, and that Ituri hosts a total of about 1.8 million internally displaced people.