The Democratic Republic of Congo’s succession crisis is adding fuel to the fire in the rebellion-wracked east, where 14 peacekeepers were killed in the deadliest attack on United Nations forces in a quarter-century.
The mineral-rich region has been blighted by inter-communal violence for decades, but President Joseph Kabila’s remaining in power beyond his constitutional limit is giving armed groups a new cause to fight for. His perceived illegitimacy has become a rallying cry for certain militias and in some cases prompted rebels hundreds of miles from the capital, Kinshasa, to combine forces.
The Dec. 7 assault on Tanzanian peacekeepers is part of a “trend of attacks against the government and its UN allies as the political turmoil in Kinshasa intensifies,” said Jason Stearns, director of the Congo Research Group at New York University.
Congo, the size of Western Europe, has never had a peaceful transfer of power. Kabila’s suspected determination to retain office after elections initially scheduled for 2016 were delayed has spurred sporadic urban protests in which dozens of people have been killed.
Violence between militias and the government has simultaneously flared in the provinces, including the central Kasai region, where an estimated 5,000 people have died and 400,000 children under five are at risk of starvation. The number of Congolese fleeing conflict in the first half of this year outpaced the rate in Syria and Yemen.
The eastern region has rich deposits of minerals including tin, gold and coltan. While most mining there is by artisanal diggers, militia activity in September forced Toronto-based Banro Corp. to suspend operations at its flagship gold mine.
The UN said it suspects the attack on peacekeepers in the Beni area of North Kivu province was carried out by the Allied Democratic Forces, or ADF, a Ugandan Islamist group active in Congo since 1993. It was just the latest brutality in Beni, where the Congo Research Group estimates mass killings have claimed at least 800 lives since October 2014.
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