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Congo army accused of multiple abuses

UN report exposes corruption and misdeeds of Democratic Republic of Congo's armed forces.

Congo army soldiers aim guns
The Congo army is accused of multiple abuses of power in a recent United Nations report. In this photo Congolese army soldiers surround a house suspected to be a rebel group hideout in Mboko in South Kivu. (Adia Tshipuku/AFP/Getty Images)

NAIROBI, Kenya — General Bosco Ntaganda may be fighting the bad guys but that doesn’t make him a good guy.

Ntaganda, 37, is one of the most senior military commanders in the army of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Backed by United Nations peacekeepers he has led assaults on the FDLR, an ethnic militia whose leaders organized the Rwandan genocide of 1994 that killed 800,000 and have been hiding out in the jungles of eastern Congo ever since.

He is wanted by the International Criminal Court for the war crime of using child soldiers, and is accused of ordering civilian massacres, rapes, torture and assassinations and of running illegal mining operations. Nicknamed "The Terminator,"  human rights activists say Ntaganda has inflicted horrors on the civilian population. He is very definitely part of Congo’s problem, they say, not its solution.

As revealed in a detailed United Nations report published in late November, Ntaganda is emblematic of the rot at the core of Congo’s army (FARDC), a force riddled with criminal networks that profit from Congo’s vast mineral wealth.

“The consequences of this involvement in the exploitation of natural resources by networks within FARDC are an important cause of instability and conflict in the eastern part of the country,” said the five-member Group of Experts whose job it is to monitor sanctions violations in eastern Congo.

President Joseph Kabila has acknowledged the existence of “a kind of mafia” militarizing the mining of minerals such as tin ore, coltan and gold which eventually reach the world market. In September the president ordered a ban on mining, but activists say it is regularly flouted.

Former rebel Ntaganda and his National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP) troops were integrated into the army in 2009, just like dozens of others FARDC has been unable to defeat militarily since a partially successful peace deal in 2003.

In reality "integration" has meant new uniforms and ranks for the rebels who continue to operate as factions within the army. “They didn’t integrate into the army they took it over and now control huge parts of [the region],” said a former diplomat in the regional capital, Goma, of the CNDP.

The U.N. report confirms that view saying the former CNDP control four times as much territory now as they did upon joining the army nearly two years ago. Within this territory Ntaganda’s loyalists run lucrative businesses in minerals, timber, charcoal, fishing and poaching.

“The integration of these armed groups has often been only skin deep and has weakened the army, making an already corrupt, ill-disciplined, abusive force that is one of the worst in Africa even harder to control,” Anneke Van Woudenberg, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, told GlobalPost. “The army has been at the forefront of rewarding and promoting human rights abusers.”

It is not only the integrated rebels that are the problem. As Van Woudenberg put it, “Congo’s army has lived off the back of the population pretty much since its inception.”