Another unnecessary war is slowly but surely taking shape in the Fizi territory, in the South-East of the Democratic Republic of Congo. An increasing number of troops are entering the region, and if nothing is done, things may get worse in a short period. The situation is reminiscent of how the conflict started in North Kivu.
On Monday 2 November 2009 I travelled to Fizi, and discovered that rumours of infiltration of foreign troops were already on the lips of many people. A government soldier I asked the question told me: “It is not another war but it is the operation called Kimia II which is going on, there is no need to be alarmed”. Kimia II is an operation which was launched by the Armed Forces of DR Congo, backed by the United Nations peacekeeping forces, to boot out the Rwandan rebels called the Democractic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), said to operate illegally in the forests and mountains of DR Congo. While they are accused of training future forces to destabilise the Tutsi-led government in place in Kigali, they are also accused of creating insecurity inside the DR Congo by trafficking minerals and abusing the local population.
I left Uvira on the same day, on a hired motorbike - all vehicles had stopped their business in the Fizi road. The motorbike driver warned me of possible shootings in the territory of Fizi. I asked him what was going on but he did not seem to have all the information about events in the larger cities of Baraka and Fizi. When we reached Kigongo, we saw people in small groups, warning us to stop our trip on to Swima. Others encouraged us to continue, declaring that things were absolutely calm in Swima. A primary school teacher (who refused to disclose his name or to be filmed) told me the following: “Government forces entered this territory recently to search for the Hutu Rwandan rebels of the FDLR, with the mission to disarm them and send them back to Rwanda. Amongst the government soldiers, there are some members of the CNDP - Tutsi soldiers of former Tutsi rebel General Nkunda."
The teacher added that “this has caused fear amongst some local Fizi chiefs who are leaders of the Mai Mai resistance groups, who are unhappy about the presence of the Tutsi soldiers with the government troops, infiltrating the Fizi territory.” He told me that many Rwandan Tutsi soldiers have been able to enter because they can easily be mistaken for Congolese Tutsi soldiers from the North Kivu region. He also said that the Mai Mai feel they need to be vigilant because of previous massacres in the region by Rwandan forces, including the Makobola massacre in 1998. View Larger Map
In Swima, many people were very helpful but we were obliged to pass to several security check points before reaching the village. We visited the office of ACODIF, the organisation which invited me. ACODIF have helped resolve a dispute over land that had caused several deaths and had the potential to cause more destruction. We talked to people and visited the land conflict area and the chiefs of tribe. All the parties are living together now after the end of their dispute. People testified that the work that did the peace building initiative in Swima was of great importance. I visited and talked with government soldiers, the police and churches leaders for two days.
After three days of the trip, we reached the river between Buyu and Bembe which has been a focus for armed conflict. We did not spend the day there because of many check points of all the armed groups: government soldiers, Mai Mai and even Rwandan rebels.
On our return journey, we arrived once more to Kigongo. We were told that the population in Fizi, Baraka, Mboko and Swima had left the village because of the war that has started in those areas. Many vehicles full of angry soldiers were travelling to the Fizi territory from Uvira. We were arrested at the limit of Uvira and Fizi because the authorities wanted to know our mission in Fizi. They checked my cameras, deleted some images and video but did not beat us nor intimidate us. After four hours of detention we were asked to continue our way.
Officially there is no more war in DR Congo, and the United Nations recently declared that they were encouraged by the situation in East DR Congo. My trip into Fizi however has made me sceptical about the current peace process in DR Congo. The presence of many isolated small groups of so called ‘local defence forces’ does not indicate that peace will soon be brought to these villages. I have been able to see that the population is under control of those having power and live in fear, silence and desolation. The hope of these people lies with the peace building initiatives which are doing much more than outsiders realise to build peace, far from the attention of the media. I hope the world through my reports can help highlight their brave work.