Tit-for-tat violence spreads in southern Lubero

2016 has begun with little calm in North Kivu as reports over the Miriki massacre made the headlines in early January. Since November 2015, FARDC-led Sukola II operations marked an effective military campaign against FDLR in North Kivu (the South Kivu string of operations ended very quickly in mid-2015 and ever since, FDLR are reported to have moved back to their previous positions in the Itombwe forest between Uvira, Mwenga, and Fizi territories).

In the forests linking northern Masisi, eastern Walikale, western Rutshuru, and Southern Lubero, FARDC troops have been able to dislodge FDLR from several important positions, most notably the military HQ in Katobo-Rushihe. In sequence, FDLR (and a high number of their dependents, mostly Rwandan refugees from the 1990s) have move more towards the northwest. The FARDC offensives were compounded by a northwards push of the NDC faction led by Sheka’s former deputy Guidon Shimweray (whose troops emerged more numerous and powerful within the NDC schism since 2015). While it is unclear to which extent NDC-Renové (Guidon) has been acting as a proxy for Kinshasa, their advance has further provoked FDLR’s retreat from certain areas in northern Walikale.

In southern Lubero (see below map), the subsequent arrival of Hutu refugees has put in limbo a yet fragile politico-ethnic environment with sharp cleavages between Hutu and Nande populations. On the frontlines, this has first materialised through the armed mobilisation of Nande youth under the flag of Kiyanda-Yira, a local mutualité, turned into the Union des Patriotes pour la Défense des Innocents (UPDI), led by Marongo. In conjunction with advancing NDC-Rénové, they have engaged in a series of tit-for-tat massacres involving FDLR troops (according to local sources, RUD and less FOCA). The latter, though, seem to maintain their traditional coalition with another Nande militia, Lafontaine’s UPCP. All the while, both Nande and Hutu organisations issued communiqués lamenting the threats which their respective populations are exposed to.

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While the Miriki massacre has been the most visible so far, numerous other clashes have produced in the past weeks, targeting both Nande and Hutu populations in the area of Miriki, Buleusa, and Luofu and triggering significant displacement. The violence has engendered increasing levels of militarisation on both sides of the conflict, as not only UPDI was established but also Hutu civilians are reported to have taken up arms. The impact of Sukola II operations, certainly a key mover of the violence, is compounded by long-rooted tensions over land which at least in parts resurfaces between Nande and Hutu (the two largest communities in North Kivu as a whole). Both on the local and the provincial level, these friction is embedded into wider political contestation and struggles linked to potential positioning in view of the electoral cycle (but, which for now is largely asphyxiated). At the provincial level, this increase in violence accompanies a wider shift towards more insecurity, exemplified by scores of abductions, in particular along the Rutshuru-Lubero road and in Masisi, and report over renewed armed mobilisation in Masisi (most notably a new Nyatura faction called ‘Alliance des Congolais pour la Restauration de la Démocratie’ and some more diffuse rumours over an implication of former M23 elements).

With MONUSCO’s official collaboration with FARDC just re-enacted, there seem to be myriad challenges ahead to secure the areas of concern – a task not necessarily supported by political and military stakeholders in the equation.

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