Democratic Republic of Congo President, Felix Tshisekedi, vowed yesterday (Thursday) to implement “radical measures” against armed groups in the country’s east that have killed thousands of civilians and set tens of thousands more to flight.
“I am simply drawing up effective solutions that will allow us to reduce this crisis in the east once and for all,” Mr Tshisekedi said at a press conference in Kinshasa with visiting European Council Chief, Charles Michel.
Although he did not go into further detail, the president’s comments follow his newly-installed prime minister’s trailing of a possible “state of security emergency” for the violence-wracked region.
“No option will be excluded,” Mr Jean-Michel Sama Lukonde told the National Assembly on Monday.
Measures could notably include “the replacement of the civilian administration by military administration in such areas,” the premier said.
An estimated 122 armed groups roam the eastern border provinces of the vast Democratic Republic of Congo, many of them a legacy of regional wars in the 1990s.
The bloodiest of them is the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a historically Ugandan Islamist group that has carried out a string of massacres in the last 18 months.
According to the Kivu Security Tracker, an NGO that monitors violence in the DRC’s troubled east, the group has killed more than 1,200 civilians in the Beni area alone since 2017.
On March 19, the UN said a surge of ADF attacks since the start of the year had claimed nearly 200 lives and forced 40,000 people to flee their homes.
Criticised for failing to stem the bloodshed, the UN’s MONUSCO peacekeeping mission said that it would be reinforced in eastern DRC by a Kenyan army unit.
Mr Tshisekedi urged school students in the eastern city of Beni to return home after they camped for days outside the town hall in protest against the UN’s perceived inaction and demanding the president visit the region.
“Don’t allow yourselves to be manipulated by adults who are pursuing political ends,” Mr Tshisekedi said, adding that “MONUSCO is not responsible for the violence.”
Mr Tshisekedi on Tuesday asked France for help with “eradicating” the ADF, which he said exhibits “Islamist tendencies, Islamist speech and Islamist methods.”
The United States in March declared the ADF to be linked to the so-called Islamic State (IS) group.
Also yesterday, 2018 Nobel Peace laureate Denis Mukwege and dozens of aid groups urged Mr Tshisekedi to end “impunity” for perpetrators of human rights violations in eastern DRC, including “agents of the security forces and other officials”.
They called for an international “judicial mechanism” to prosecute those behind “serious international crimes” committed in the DRC.
Top on their list were those documented in a 2010 UN report on human rights violations from wars in 1993-2003.
It details more than 600 instances of massacres, sexual violence, attacks against children and other crimes.
“The violence still raging in eastern DR Congo today recalls in a tragic way that too little has been done to bring the perpetrators of human rights violations to justice,” said Mr Micheline Mwendike, an activist from the Lucha civil society movement based in the region.