While there's some hope in the eastern DRC this week as a number of local defense militias are disarming, insecurity in North Kivu continues. FDLR (the Hutu extremist rebels whose leaders are in part responsible for the 1994 Rwandan genocide) troops are currently amusing themselves by terrorizing the population in Luofu, a town about 110 miles north of Goma. More than 250 houses were burned and eight people were killed in the town over the weekend, including five children who died in their burning house.
It should be clear to even the most optimistic observers that the January-February "joint" operation by the Rwandan and Congolese armies to flush out the FDLR was a failure. While a few soldiers disarmed and went back to Rwandan, the core of the FDLR quickly regrouped. The only real change that appears to have occurred is that the FDLR is now concentrating its efforts farther north, meaning they're terrorizing a whole new segment of the population. It also means that the citizens suffering the most harm are less accessible to aid agencies and to MONUC. Places like Luofu are much more difficult to reach than Masisi, Rutshuru, or even Walikale.
An interesting aspect of this story is the role being played by local leaders, particularly in the Catholic Church:
"We are trying to calm the population so they don't run into the bush," said Jean Bosco Masumbuko, another priest in Luofu. "We will stay in the church and pray. If they must come and kill us, they will kill us while we pray."One of my big criticisms of the way interventions in the eastern DRC are handled is that most of the ideas about "solutions" to the crisis are conceived in Kinshasa or Brussels or Paris or Washington - places that are in every sense a world away from the Kivus. Perhaps you've noticed that these so-called solutions never work. The Kivus, especially North Kivu, are still conflict zones, vulnerable populations are still at risk, and basic security is still a pipe dream for millions of innocent people.
But here's an example of local leaders coming up with an idea on their own. Yeah, they can't stop the FDLR, they need peacekeepers and security, and they need immediate humanitarian emergency assistance. But those priests are doing a huge service by trying to calm the people and keep them concentrated in the village, where it will be much easier for humanitarian agencies to help them and for MONUC to provide some protection. They understand the culture and know that inviting everyone into the church to pray will achieve those ends.
It's unlikely that anyone bothered to ask Father Masumbuko and his colleagues what they thinks should be done to secure the region. Which is too bad, because they probably have some good ideas, maybe even ones that would work.