Congolese Army (FARDC) helicopter gunships, piloted by Ukrainian soldiers from high altitudes, inflicted heavy civilian casualties near the village of Rumangabo in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo yesterday.
(Article changed on July 26, 2013 at 07:39)
(Article changed on July 25, 2013 at 14:55)
(Article changed on July 25, 2013 at 13:45)
Congolese Army (FARDC) MI24 helicopter gunships, piloted by Ukrainian soldiers from high altitudes, inflicted heavy civilian casualties near the village of Rumangabo in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo yesterday.
President Bertrand Bisimwa of the rebel M23 political and military movement said the attack on the rebel-held Rumangabo camp, 25 miles north of Goma, killed five civilians, according to the Washington Post.
M23 has provided photos to the international community that show many more casualties, many of them children. (The photos are too graphic to publish)
Rumangabo bombing by Photo provided by M23
Children by Photo provided by M23
"(The helicopters) have been over Rumangabo for the last two hours. It seems there have been quite a number of victims," said Emmanuel De Merode, chief warden at the Virunga National Park, which has its headquarters a few kilometres from the camp. He said 10 civilians wounded in the strikes had been admitted to the park's infirmary. One man lost his leg, and two children were seriously injured by shrapnel, he added. The rest of the victims were not seriously wounded.
Burial by Photo provided by M23
However, No major media outlet reported on an urgent press release provided by M23 spokesman Amani Kabasha last week that predicted this outcome. According to the presser, the United Nations mission in Congo (MONUSCO) allowed FARDC to occupy strategic U.N. positions at Munigi and Kanyaruchinya, which are located near population centers. In effect, FARDC was using the United Nations and the local population as human shields. "If we act, we risk doing damage," said Bertrand Bisimwa, President of the M23 political arm. "We may invite a war with MONUSCO." Bisimwa went on to call the situation "a trap," while international media interpreted M23's refusal to act as weakness.
"It is therefore a big risk for the civilians and the MONUSCO military base who have been placed by such a strategy in the war zone. The directorate of our movement has just been informed that during the attack conducted this Wednesday July, 17th 2013 by the government army using heavy weapons, the MONUSCO military base has been hit by the shootings which have damaged its facilities. Once again our movement condemns this deadly strategy which full responsibility falls on the MONUSCO and the DRC Army."
The United Nations working group on peacekeeping met last Friday to discuss the use of technology as a peace tool. However, the scheduled delivery of UAV's to the U.N. Mission in Congo (MONUSCO) in support of the national army of Congo (FARDC) suggests the use of common sense would be a more useful topic.
Why Are We Giving Drones to UN to Aid FARDC?
The question no one is asking is why the international community is providing military aid to FARDC. Why are we sending drones to MONUSCO while they are supporting FARDC's monstrous corpse desecrations of M23 casualties last week and the rapes last year of 102 women and 33 girls, some as young as 6, by US-trained troops? Inner City Press reports that the 391 st battalion was implicated in both the rapes and the desecrations. It was trained by the United States "as a model for future reforms within the Congolese armed forces," according to AFRICOM.
In a brutal and disturbing report by France 24, Congo government soldiers describe the killing and raping spree.
"It wasn't as if you knew how many women you were going to raped -- that day there weren't many -- maybe three," a FARDC soldier says.
"When we came across other people, we killed them just for the sake of it," another says.
In response to allegations of corpse desecrations by FARDC during fighting last week, the U.N. announced that is reviewing its support of the Congo army.
Female M23 Officer greeting village women by Congo DRC News
This photo shows Major Fanette Rwagati, an M23 officer, dancing with local women in Kibumba city, courtesy of CONGO DRC NEWS.
Contrast the photo of Major Rwagati with this one of a FARDC soldier looting a home and stealing a puppy during looting in the village of Rusayo.
FARDC looting by Congo DRC News
Getty posted heinous photos of FARDC soldiers desecrating the body of an alleged M23 corpse, but Rene Abandi, the Head of Foreign Affairs and deputy head of the M23 delegation at peace talks in Kampala, denied that the widely circulated photos depicted an M23 casualty. The story behind the Getty photo is even more disturbing.
In a phone interview, Abandi said that the photo is actually one of a FARDC casualty who was Tutsi. While aware of desecrations and tortures of M23 combatants by members of FARDC, Abandi characterized the photos as possibly indicative of ethnic hatred.
Abandi was careful in his choice of words, but the implications are obvious and disturbing. For FARDC soldiers to not recognize one of their own, just because he was a Tutsi, shows that the level of ethnic hatred has not diminished since 800,000 Tutsis were massacred in the Rwandan genocide in 1994.
During several days of heavy fighting last week FARDC, supported by helicopter gunships, attacked M23 rebel positions near the provincial capitol of Goma. Depending on the news source, FARDC either caused a retreat of the M23 while inflicting heavy losses, or were routed across the border into Rwanda where they were asked by Rwandan officials to use the main border gate.
VOA NEWS also reported on last week's fighting, but Abandi refuted some of the claims made in the VOA report.
The scene described in the audio feed is a government army position at mid-afternoon on Wednesday. As soon as mortars land near FARDC positions, they start to retreat. The commander shouts at them, "You men get forward. What are you retreating for? Get in front of the tanks."
Is M23 Really Losing the War?
Is it a fact, as reported in international media, that the M23 has lost ground, is running out of ammunition and suffering heavy casualties?
Abandi says peace negotiations in Kampala are "stuck" because the leadership of Congo has not reported to the negotiations for a month, and Abandi says this explains the renewed fighting. "The Congo government does not want to negotiate; they want a military solution."
Despite reports by Reuters and Voice of America about losses suffered by M23, Abandi says that M23 retains control over the same amount of territory it had before the renewed fighting. Reports of loss of ground by M23 are a result of MONUSCO giving access to FARDC to advance on the M23 from behind their own lines.
Abandi also accuses the Congo government and MONUSCO of "lying" about casualty numbers. Declining to give exact numbers Abandi said, "There have obviously been some casualties within M23 ranks, but the numbers are a lot less than what is being reported in international media."
As far as casualties within FARDC, Abandi says media is not reporting numbers there because "M23 does not celebrate the deaths of Congolese." The enemy are considered "brothers," in the eyes of the M23 political movement.
Given the reports of U.N. supported FARDC rapes, desecrations, civilian casulatied and desertions, perhaps the U.N. working group on peacekeeping could focus more on the use of brain analysis of U.N. commanders rather than drone analysis of eastern Congo.
According to VOA News, Secretary of State John Kerry is scheduled to chair a special session of the U.N. Security Council on the Great Lakes regional conflict. But the State Department seems woefully uninformed about the conflict and continues to blame Rwanda for the conflict when all evidence points to AFRICOM and United Nations meddling in a regional conflict.
The only hopeful signs emerging from this mess are reports by international media outlets that are finally recognizing the truth from the ground.
The Government of Congo cannot feed itself on atrocity forever.
UPDATE: At John Kerry's special session of the Security Council today, Congo's foreign minister Raymond Tshibanda said that rebellions in the Great Lakes region for years have "all bear the same genetic signature" (la meme signature genetique). This is a hate reference to Tutsis, who were killed en masse in the Rwandan genocide of 1994. This might also help to explain the desecration of M23 corpses by Congolese Army troops.
Georgianne Nienaber is an investigative environmental and political writer. She lives in rural northern Minnesota, New Orleans and South Florida. Her articles have appeared in The Society of Professional Journalists' Online Quill Magazine, The Ugandan Independent, Rwanda's New Times, India's TerraGreen, COA News, ZNET, OpEdNews, Glide Magazine, The Journal of the International Primate Protection League, Africa Front, The United Nations Publication, A Civil Society Observer, Bitch Magazine, and Zimbabwe's The Daily Mirror. Her fiction expos- of insurance fraud in the horse industry, Horse Sense, was re-released in early 2006. Gorilla Dreams: The Legacy of Dian Fossey was also released in 2006. Nienaber spent much of 2007 doing research in South Africa, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. She was in DRC as a MONUC-accredited journalist, and has been living Southern Louisiana investigating hurricane reconstruction and getting to know the people there since late 2007. Nienaber is currently developing a documentary on the Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone, and continuing "to explore the magic of the Deep South." She is a member of the Memphis Chapter of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.