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With UN Troops Arriving, Congo Insurgents Have A Choice To Make

Militias in the North Kivu region are facing desertions as the UN armed contingent begins to move into the embattled territory of the Democratic Republic of Congo. But fighting still flares.

M23 troops in Bunagana, North Kivu
M23 troops in Bunagana, North Kivu
Jacques Kikuni Kokonyange

BENI - Colonel David Lusenge surrendered to the Congolese army at dawn on the second Saturday in April.

This former officer of the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC), who had deserted the national army to help found the rebel group Movement for the Restoration of Democracy, had been plotting an attack for late March against the town of Beni.

“I’ve decided to come back to the FARDC. I have finally realized that I must serve my country in the regular army, and not in the bush,” he stated to representatives from civil society, who helped pave the way for his peaceful return.

Lusenge is not the only one to have turned his back on the rebel movement since the United Nations Security Council’s decision to send an armed contingent to stamp out the insurgency in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The celebrated leader of the Mai-Mai tribe, Muhindo Wikongo, very active west of Beni, has also given up the fight, along with some members of insurgent groups like the March 23 Movement (M23) and the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR). Witnesses tell of Wikongo leaving his arrows, machetes and blades behind him, followed by his lieutenants, to the surprise of the villagers who were living in constant fear of attacks.

Still, the fighting is hardly over. This past week saw the worst violence since M23 briefly overtook the regional capital of Goma last year. Observers say the remaining militia are trying to undermine the arrival of UN troops.

UN flexes its muscles

Around the town of Beni, the rebels have been turning themselves in one by one over the past month, dropping their weapons on the way. At least ten armed groups have surrendered in total. Most of them go through civil society, which has been granted authority by the local administration after last February’s talks.

“We regularly receive calls from outlaws who tell us their wish to leave the bush and re-embrace civil life,” says Teddy Kataliko, president of Beni territory’s civil society. With its 3,000 soldiers, mostly from African countries (Tanzania, South Africa and Malawi), the UN special contingent is better prepared for assaults and owns better equipment than the standing Congolese army.

[rebelmouse-image 27086808 alt="""" original_size="499x333" expand=1]

M23 troops in Bunagana, North Kivu - Photo: Al Jazeera English

According to Mussa Demba Diallo, head of the public information division of the MONUSCO (UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo) in Beni, the mission has infantry, artillery, a special forces unit and a recon team. “We advised the locals to leave the bush since fighting an international force is not an easy task. We are likely to lose friends and family,” says Christophe Kambale from civil society in Beni.

Warning of the coming effects of this mission, which is expected to be operational anytime between now and July, the provincial government in North Kivu and civil society leaders are urging the dissidents to make a choice between civil life or the army. Retraining centers have already been opened since February in county seats.

Timid returns

“We are in permanent contact with some of the children who have been ensnared in the fighting. Truth be told, their demands are not clear. Sometimes they claim they have been drafted by politicians fighting the current authority, sometimes they say they were promised rank and gold after conquering large cities,” says Jackson Kalongero, head of the Congo governmental program of reconstruction and stabilization in eastern DRC.

“Many rebels are starting to get along with this reintegration process, others timidly return to their villages,” noted North Kivu's governor.

Spokesman Madnodje Mounoubai said that since early April, 87 rebels from the M23 already surrendered to UN forces. They were regrouped into the Disarmament, Demobilization, Repatriation, Reintegration and Resettlement section of the UN mission in Goma. Governor Paluku reckons that “more than 500 fighters of the M23 have been reinstated into the FARDC since 2012.”

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An End To Venezuela Sanctions? The Lula Factor In Biden's Democratization Gamble

The Biden administration's exploration to lift sanctions on Venezuela, hoping to gently push its regime back on the path of democracy, might have taken its cue from Brazilian President Lula's calls to stop demonizing Venezuela.

Photo of a man driving a motorbike past a wall with a mural depicting former President Hugo Chavez in Caracas, Venezuela

Driving past a Chavez mural in Caracas, Venezuela

Leopoldo Villar Borda


BOGOTÁ — Reports last month that U.S. President Joe Biden's apparent decision to unblock billions of dollars in Venezuelan assets, frozen since 2015 as part of the United States' sanctions on the Venezuelan regime, could be the first of many pieces to fall in a domino effect that could help end the decades-long Venezuelan deadlock.

It may move the next piece — the renewal of conversations in Mexico between the Venezuelan government and opposition — before pushing over other obstacles to elections due in 2024 and to Venezuela's return into the community of American states.

I don't think I'm being naïve in anticipating developments that would lead to a new narrative around Venezuela, very different to the one criticized by Brazil's president, Lula da Silva. He told a regional summit in Brasilia in June that there were prejudices about Venezuela — and I dare say he wasn't entirely wrong, based on the things I hear from a Venezuelan friend who lives in Bogotá but travels frequently home.

My friend insists his country's recent history is not quite as depicted in the foreign press. The price of basic goods found in a food market are much the same as those in Bogotá, he says.

He goes to the theater when he visits Caracas, eats in restaurants and strolls in parks and squares. There are new building works, he says. He uses the Caracas metro and insists its trains and stations are clean — showing me pictures on his cellphone to prove it.

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