DRC: Militia force chief ready for war

2012-08-23 22:28
Janvier Karairi. (AFP)

Janvier Karairi. (AFP)

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Lukweti - Janvier Karairi, leader of a militia force in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, says that the government and the army have come begging his help in defeating a local Tutsi rebellion.

Karairi's movement is formed of traditional fighters like many other Mai Mai groups, whose fierce reputation is based partly on their beliefs and practices. They believe they can dodge bullets if their hair is styled a certain way and sprinkle themselves with sacred water before battle.

To reach the headquarters of Karairi's Alliance of the People for a Free and Sovereign Congo (APCLS), you must cross a rope bridge over a stream near Lukweti village in the volcanic hills of Nord-Kivu province north of the provincial capital Goma.

Karairi claims to command three brigades, or 4 500 men, which cannot be independently verified. Their range of operations neighbours an area conquered to the north and northwest of Goma, by rebels of M23, a Tutsi force of mutineers who deserted from the army from April and represent a significant regional threat.

Request


On Tuesday, Karairi recalls, two helicopters of the UN mission in DR Congo, Monusco, landed on the football field of the nearly village, carrying a member of parliament, Mwami Bahati, who is also a tribal chief, a UN representative and the deputy commander of the military zone in Nord-Kivu province.

"They came to ask me to form an alliance with the army to fight M23," the neatly bearded Karairi said, adding that he agreed with one condition, that his men should not be mingled with those of those of the Congolese army (FARDC) "because they have M23 people within their ranks".

"We want our own line of attack," he explained, adding that he had asked the army for weapons and equipment. During their visit to the Mai Mai base, AFP journalists saw no heavy weapons. Apart from a few big machine-guns and RPG rocket launchers, the fighters had AK47s.

In 2004, Karairi said, he accepted a government offer to join the FARDC, during a time of integration after a war that ravaged much of the vast country, but when an ethnic Tutsi colonel was placed in command of his unit, he left with his men.

Anti-Tutsi

"The enemy of the APLCS is he who accepts the invasion of the Congo by Rwanda, Uganda or Burundi," he stated, stressing that he was firmly "anti-Tutsi".

Rwanda, which has several times intervened militarily in DR Congo, has a government largely led by Tutsis, the main victims of the genocide of 1994 in which some 800 000 people were massacred by Hutus. The Kigali regime has been accused by the United Nations of backing M23 - an allegation it strongly denies.

M23 forces have neither advanced nor fallen back in the past month, according to civilian witnesses and the military. Its men are about 20km from Goma, and like other movements in the region, it imposes taxes and seeks to administrate areas it controls.

Destabilisation

But despite this relative stability, the M23 rebellion has destabilised the whole province, opening the way for other armed groups to become active and fight to gain ground or take control of mineral resources. Apart from seeking local allies to fight M23, the Kinshasa government is looking to the UN for help.

Monusco spokesperson in Kinshasa, Madnodje Mounoubai, two weeks ago spoke of a "red line" based on current positions and warned that UN forces could intervene if there was a direct threat to the scores of thousands of displaced people in Goma.

Karairi denies any contact with the Hutu Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), which hides out in the forests of eastern DR Congo and is seen as a constant cross-border threat to Rwanda, including people who participated in the genocide.

UN business

"The FDLR is the business of the United Nations," Karairi said. "It's up to them to do everything possible to make the FDLR return home."

A former trader from Kichanga, northwest of Goma, who is welcoming with journalists, Karairi is clearly well respected. Nobody talks until he allows them to and everybody gets up when he comes into a room.

At the APCLS training camp at Nyabiondo, about 20km from Lukweti, straw huts provide shelter for women and children. A DR Congo army camp is installed close by. A little further away, a Monusco base is home to UN troops from India who are supplied by helicopter.

On the road back from Lukweti, two armed men in civilian clothes tried to hide when the car approached. "They're FDLR," said an APCLS fighter who was escorting the journalists.

- SAPA
Read more on:    m23  |  drc  |  central africa  |  security
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