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Fact file: the conflict in North Kivu

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2008-11-18

A history of the conflict in DR Congo, UN's role in the region and the renegade general leading the rebels. Scroll down to read the facts about the escalating conflict in North Kivu, which could once again leave the Great Lakes region in turmoil.

1. Timeline: a history of wars in Congo


2. What is MONUC's mission in Congo?


3. Laurent Nkunda, portrait of a rebellion leader





A history of wars in Congo

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC, former Zaire) spreads over a territory the size of Western Europe. After war rages across the region between 1998 and 2003, the country is today once again in the midst of an escalating conflict.

The former Belgian colony becomes independent in 1960. Five years later, General Joseph-Désiré Mobutu, aka Mobutu Sese Seko, seizes power in a coup and establishes a dictatorship.

The Rwanda genocide and the refugee crisis in the Great Lakes region (1994 – 1996)

After the death of Rwanda President Juvénal Habyarimana, a Hutu, in a plane crash, Hutus violently turn against Tutsis in what quickly becomes a mass-scale extermination. Thousands of Tutsi refugees flee to Rwanda’s neighbouring countries, Zaire, Uganda, and Tanzania.
The DRC and the First Congo War (1997)

Tutsi rebels overthrow the Hutu regime in Rwanda and take power. Rwanda then invades Zaire, searching for Hutu militiamen accused of having orchestrated the genocide.

Taking advantage of the situation, Mobutu opponents take control of the Zaire capital of Kinshasa. They install Laurent-Désiré Kabila in power and rename the country the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Kabila then chases away his former Rwandese and Ugandese allies.
The Second Congo War, “Africa’s first World War” (1998)

Rebels supported by Rwanda and Uganda fight against President Kabila’s armies allied to Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe. According to the UN, at least 3.5 million people die in the course of the five-year-long war.
The Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement and the transitional government (1999 – 2003)

The Lusaka Agreement puts an end to the fighting and allows the deployment of a peacekeeping mission, the MONUC. A transitional government is established.

After the murder of Laurent-Désiré Kabila, his son Joseph takes over in 2001. He is confirmed as president in the 2006 election against Jean-Pierre Bemba.

The Kivu conflict (2006 – 2008)

Laurent Nkunda heads the rebellion against the central government in Nord Kivu (North Kivu), a region bordering Rwanda. A peace agreement is signed in January 2008 but the fighting has picked up again since last August.







The UN mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which goes by its French acronym MONUC, is the UN’s largest peacekeeping force in the world, about 17,000 strong.  Yet it is still stretched thin, struggling to provide for a country that’s three times the size of France.


According to its mandate, MONUC can use any necessary means to avoid a new armed conflict that would threaten the DRC political process and guarantee the protection of civilians.  MONUC must in particular ensure that all foreign troops have left the country, that all armed rebels have disarmed and it must restore state authority across the country.


But MONUC has been accused of inaction. Congolese civilians have blamed MONUC’s Blue Helmets for failing to protect them from violence from both the rebels and the Congolese regular army.


According to Said Abbas Ahamed, a Congo expert at the Fondation nationale de sciences politiques (the National Foundation for Political Science), there is reluctance to take a firmer stance in the West. “The US was traumatized by its losses in Somalia,” he explains. “Since then, the West has been prepared to finance troops, but not to send soldiers.” For its part, the EU as a whole has decided not to send troops, asking the UN to do so instead.


World leaders like French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and British Foreign Secretary David Miliband have called upon the UN to increase troop deployment and even for a change in the MONUC mandate allowing it to exercise more force. The onus for peacekeeping in the troubled region still rests on the UN.



Laurent Nkunda, portrait of a rebellion leader

The rebellion carried out by ex-general Laurent Nkunda is an echo of the civil war that tore DR Congo apart from 1998 to 2003.

 Heading a military force made up of several thousand dissident soldiers, Nkunda has since 2004 regularly confronted the government forces which he accuses of conspiring with Rwandan Hutu rebel groups from the east of the DRC against the country’s minority ethnic Tutsi community.

In October 2008 Nkunda’s CNDP renamed itself the Movement for the Total Liberation of Congo and called for the overthrow of DR Congo’s President Joseph Kabila.

The forty-year-old leader of the Nord Kivu rebellion claims to be pursuing one goal only, to free his Congolese Tutsi brothers.

Laurent Nkunda was born in what was then Zaire but he started his military career with the Tutsi Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), which helped put an end to the Rwanda genocide by retaking control of the country in the summer 1994.

After fighting alongside Laurent-Désiré Kabila to overthrow Zaire dictator Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997, Nkunda took the leadership of one of the rebel movements during the first Congo War, which lead to the end of Zaire and the birth of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Promoted general at the end of the war, he refused to pledge allegiance to the government of the new DRC.

Nkunda’s major feat of arms came in 2004 when his National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP) briefly took control of the capital of Sud Kivu, Bukavu.

The Kinshasa government issued an international arrest warrant against Nkunda in 2005. According to Human Rights Watch, Nkunda has been implicated in war crimes in both Kisangani in 2002 and in Bukavu en 2004.


Date created : 2008-11-12