- Demilitarize Minembwe: Summary
These are summarized reasons indicating why Minembwe should be demilitarized. The thin area of less than 10 Km2 hosts more than 120,000 displaced people from Itombwe, Kamombo and the neighborhood of Minembwe centre. Surrounded by armed groups and imposed a siege, civilians in Minembwe can no longer access their fields while there is no humanitarian assistance. Whenever they have tried to search for foods in their fields, they have experienced brutal killings in which the national is suspected to have a remote hand. They are forced to starve and leave by their own. This is simply a plan to uproot specifically Banyamulenge. Thousands of IDPs have no shelter and their single choice is to spend nights under the open skies.
For roughly a year and months, Minembwe is facing regular attacks from Maimai and Burundian rebels while the national army deployed in sufficient numbers have stood indifferently or simply opening breaches when attacks are being carried out to civilians. The army has actively participated in planning to impoverish Banyamulenge when thousands of cattle were looted. Evidence from the ground points to an army that provides military equipment and materials to armed groups in exchange with money. Caught between the hammer and anvil of proxy wars between Rwanda and Burundi, Minembwe has entered a critical phase of confrontation as FARDC has started to invade civilians’ fields as part of provocative measures to create unrest. Consequently, FARDC slightly motivated and unlikely remunerated has launched attacks against Banyamulenge local defense group (Twirwaneho). The self-defense groups emerged largely from the vacuum created by the “absent-present” FARDC. They started to organize themselves to fight back for all this period when the army chose to close eyes when civilians were attacked. An option of attacking Twirwaneho is a turning point of attacking civilians who have been fighting to protect themselves.
- The background of Recent Violence
Since the escalation of recent armed confrontation in the highlands of Minembwe, Bijombo, Itombwe, and Kamombo in February-March 2019, main belligerents were thought to be Mai Mai, Biloze-Bishambuke, Red Tabara, Forebu, and FNL on one hand, and Gumino-Twirwaneho affiliated to Banyamulenge, on the other. Causes of this unending confrontation are numerous though categorized into ethnic animosity but also confrontation over local authority, contestation of some communities considered as “non-native”. Mai Mai and Biloze-Bishambuke are Congolese armed groups recruiting mainly from Babembe, Bafuliro and Banyindu communities; while Red-Tabara, Forebu, FNL are Burundian rebels who have vowed to overthrow the current regime in Burundi. Whilst Twirwaneho, a self-defense group of Banyamulenge was initiated as part of filling security vacuum, Gumino is an armed group that have been operating in the region for years.
Evidence on the ground have shown that the coalition of Mai Mai-Burundian rebels from the day one constituted a “well-organized” military corps. Besides how Mai Mai outnumber their opponents Twirwaneho-Gumino, they carried out systematic attacks supported politically, financially and militarily. Ammunitions, tactics, and strategies used this round were likely different from the past. Their modus operandi makes an observer to be on the opinion that, Mai Mai have been supported by well-trained groups. As matter of fact, Burundian rebels are mainly former Burundian soldiers who have fled their country following the contestation of President Nkurunziza third term. In addition to their military capabilities and skills, it is believed (from UN Group of Experts reports) that many have received a financial and military support from Rwanda Defense Force.
Regardless of how violence breeds chaos, documented evidence and claims from social Medias indicate that Mai Mai objective of recent attacks was to uproot the Banyamulenge community economically but also socio-culturally. That is why for example, their target number one in the destruction process starts by entirely burning villages. More than 200 Banyamulenge villages were burnt. The intention to destroy this community economically and squeeze their source of livelihood, more than 130,000 cattle were looted. Hundreds of civilians (estimated around 450-500), including elders, women and children were brutally killed in their respective villages, some of them were killed while taken as hostage by the coalition of Mai Mai and their allies. Following the destruction of entire villages, hundreds have fled towards Minembwe. Banyamulenge population estimated around 200,000 are currently concentrated in a very small zone of around 5Kms radius in Minembwe as the only option. Since May 2019, Minembwe is surrounded by armed groups while locals have no access to their fields. This concentration is seen as new war tactics of starving locals Banyamulenge who have limited access to humanitarian assistance.
Strikingly, this tragedy happened in a very small amount of time with sort of coordinated attacks and has persisted for this long time. It tends to confirm that this evil plan was tactically and strategically conceived at high level. Eastern Congo, particularly the Hauts Plateaux of Fizi, Uvira and Itombwe is well known for consecutive armed conflicts for many years. But we have never had experienced this kind of armed conflict with high intensity to uproot the whole tribe.
- Bystander or Accomplice FARDC: Reinforcement of Local Defense Mechanisms
It was astonishing that all happened in complicity with some elements of FARDC (national army) if not the whole institution. One evident proof is that Banyamulenge cattle were looted and villages were burnt down in the presence of the national army military positions. In this situation, it was a total confusion. How could one explain the fact that the National Army under the flag, supposed to protect civilians and their belongings could take the role of bystanders (accomplice) in front of Mai Mai-Red Tabara-FNL coalition committing their nasty acts? The role of FARDC in the destruction of highlands of Uvira-Fizi-Itombwe is no longer hidden. A first glance indicates that Banyamulenge are being victimized by a complex war being fought at three levels: the fragile ruling coalition in Kinshasa and its corollaries on the dysfunctional national army; local grievances with Mai Mai’s ideology considering Banyamulenge as “invaders” to kick out of Congo; and Rwanda-Burundi proxy war on the Congolese soil.
Back to the confusing deployment of FARDC commanders in Minembwe, we have assisted to some maneuvers from the high command (Etat-Major). For example, on 5th July 2019, General Amisi Kumba (Tango Four) visited Minembwe and met local leaders and specifically Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Minembwe. He made a declaration that Banyamulenge cattle are free to go anywhere for transhumance reason. In his claim as a FARDC deputy Chief of Staff, FARDC were supposed to be deployed in some key areas to ensure the population and their belongings are safe. His visit was followed by that of Vital Kamerhe on 9th July 2019 who again promised that the Congolese government is keen to protect civilians. More than ten official visits of military generals, the South-Kivu Governor and the Under General Secretary for UN peacekeeping missions have all visited Minembwe. Regardless of these, it was so sad that the Banyamulenge cattle keepers who trusted all these declarations and instructions were wildly killed and their herd of cows were looted in Lulenge by Mai Mai-Red Tabara-FNL coalition.
In addition, the inaction (complicity) of FARDC commanders in Minembwe had likely confirmed that the military commanders were in one way or another linked to the same coalition which has the objective to exterminate the Banyamulenge community. Besides proofs to support this claim, Col. Katembo and Gen. Muhindo commonly known as Mundos have implicitly claimed it. They have shared communication channels with the coalition. They facilitate the supply of ammunitions to the coalition, etc.
In all these developments, Banyamulenge self-defense group Twirwaneho have served as shield to prevent large scale massacre or a genocide to be imposed to the population already concentrated in IDP camps with no humanitarian assistance at all. Curiously, from last week until today when we are writing this note, FARDC have started to invade fields in Minembwe where launched attacks to fight against Twirwaneho within Minembwe center. What a terrorizing week? FARDC opened sporadically fire everywhere night and day within the context of thousands of displaced people who spent nights in the air. Since 23rd May 2020, traumatized local population, facing the unending coalition attacks, have no clue of where to flee to.
- Civilians need Protection and Humanitarian Assistance
The “bleu helmet” of MONUSCO should at least be the only reason for the little hope of the population with the expectation that whenever there is a threat from the coalition, the only option they have is to flee toward MONUSCO courtyard. However, its presence has yet contained these unending attacks on Minembwe.
The international Community should not keep silent while this drama is happening in this very remote area. The Government of DR Congo has for many times shown its ineffectiveness to manage its forces and the trust has shrunk. There is a need of Independent investigators (as UN experts) to trace the maneuvers behind the treason manufactured against Banyamulenge community so that players in this evil game can be determined and held accountable individually.
Nevertheless, the most critical and burning question NOW is: how can Minembwe survive in the current situation when it has no one to protect it from the evil plan of the coalition? If FARDC are not able to perform their responsibilities of protecting that corner of the country; if Twirwaneho are considered as an armed group which cannot be given the control of the area; Therefore, the possible option on table to save lives in Minembwe is: Under UNSC Resolution 1674 especially in its measure No 14, MONUSCO, should ensure that there is no gun operating within the area of IDPs concentration. Failing to do so, there is a high risk from the loophole created by the conflict between FARDC and Twirwaneho that Mai Mai-Red Tabara-FNL coalition could take advantage and execute their plan of uprooting Banyamulenge community in DR Congo.
Human Rights and Peace Building Activist
 Though Rwanda has been denying to have any link with Burundian rebels based in the Hauts plateau of Uvira. https://www.thenewhumanitarian.org/news/2019/10/28/eastern-Congo-Kivu-conflict-regional-tensions
 The conflict was ongoing at this stage. https://afrique.lalibre.be/43075/rdcongo-appel-a-laide-de-lhopital-de-minembwe/
 The article was published when the demolition of Banyamulenge villages was ongoing. https://www.thenewhumanitarian.org/news/2019/10/28/eastern-Congo-Kivu-conflict-regional-tensions
 Other local Banyamulenge in the region are concentrated in Bijombo (Uvira Territory) while few are concentrated in Mikenke sheltering internally displaced people around Monusco base.
 Gen. Amisi visited Minembwe and made higher the expectation of Banyamulenge Population. http://www.rfi.fr/fr/afrique/20190707-rdc-appel-general-amisi-alias-tango-four-populations-minembwe
 Gen. Mundos was added to the black lists of FARDC commanders under UN sanctions. https://www.jeuneafrique.com/526555/politique/rdc-le-general-mundos-et-trois-chefs-miliciens-inscrits-sur-la-liste-noire-de-lonu/
 United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 164, https://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/RES/1674(2006)