Despite peace accord, eastern Congo still on edge

Updated 26 February 2013

Despite peace accord, eastern Congo still on edge

GOMA, Congo: Despite the signing of a Congo peace accord on Sunday, this Central African country remains unsettled by signs of a return to war.
The peace agreement, signed in Ethiopia by 11 neighboring countries and backed by the United Nations, elicited much praise from African and other world leaders who said it points the way to stability in Congo.
But on the ground here in eastern Congo, there are signals that fighting may soon erupt between the Congolese government and the M23 rebels. The regional peace accord is helpful but it does not have specifics to immediately improve the tense security situation, said an expert on eastern Congo.
“I think it is a step in the right direction. But the agreement is more a statement of principles than a concrete action plan. It is lacking in details, such as what an oversight mechanism for its implementation would look like,” Jason Stearns, a Congo specialist for the Rift Valley Institute, said to The Associated Press.
The agreement did not mention the much-awaited intervention forces that would come to reinforce the UN peacekeeping troops in eastern Congo, nor did it state how a drone force could patrol the border.
Another problem is that no conclusion has been reached in the negotiations between the M23 rebels and the Kinshasa government of President Joseph Kabila.
Instead the M23 rebels appear to be positioning themselves for a new attack. And the Congolese government is making alliances with other rebel militias. The result is that eastern Congo remains tense and unsettled.
Just over three months ago, on Nov. 20, the M23, who are allegedly backed by neighboring Rwanda, seized this strategic city of 1 million and threatened to take the rest of mineral-rich eastern Congo. Two weeks later, as a result of international pressure and the Congolese army’s pledge to negotiate, the rebels withdrew from Goma. But now it appears the rebels are poised to strike again.
The rebels have reinforced their positions and are just 3 kilometers (2 miles) from Goma airport. Rebel soldiers are visible along the road from Goma to Rutshuru, unbothered by the daily patrols of U. N. peacekeepers.
Little progress has been made in the negotiations between the rebels and the Kabila government that have been going on for two months in Kampala, Uganda, said Stanislas Baleke, an M23 official.
The M23’s nearly one-year-old rebellion is led by fighters who defected from the Congolese army. They are from an earlier rebel group and complain that the Congo government did not properly implement a previous peace accord signed on March 23, 2009. The M23 take their name from the date of that accord.
Neither the rebels nor the Congolese government are willing to compromise on their demands. The rebels’ insist that President Joseph Kabila must resign and be replaced by a transitional government that would run the country while new elections are organized, say experts following the talks.
“The M23 has political ambitions that Congo does not want to discuss. And the government wants the arrest of the top five M23 leaders, which is a completely unacceptable condition for the rebels. The talks will go nowhere,” said Stearns, the author of “Dancing in the Glory of Monsters” and a Congo expert.
Last month several high-ranking M23 officers were called back from the Kampala negotiations to the rebels headquarter in Rutshuru, Congo, as the armed group is planning new operations, according to rebel sources.
When the M23 rebels seized Goma in November, the UN peacekeepers were harshly criticized because they failed to defend the city, the capital of North Kivu province. The UN has 17,000 troops in Congo, its largest mission in the world, but they do not have the authority to intervene to stop fighting, only to protect the civilian population.
Meanwhile, the Congolese army is enrolling new recruits throughout the country and has been forging new alliances with other militia forces in North Kivu province.
Since the creation of the M23 last year, many areas North Kivu have suffered from a security vacuum as the army has focused its forces on fighting the M23 and has ignored the several other militias operating in the area.
Aware that it cannot fight several fronts at once, and playing on the anti-Rwandan feelings of these militias, the army has forged alliances with them. The army has supplied the militias with weapons and ammunition, with the agreement they will fight alongside the regular forces, according to a Congolese colonel speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the press.
“The M23’s main problem is its lack of weapons and troops. So if the army can gather more men, they would have the upper hand,” explained Congo analyst Stearns. “Militia proxys are a very crude tool for the Congolese army to use, but they are very efficient as well.”
Armed by the Congolese army, the militias have started patrolling the muddy tracks running around the hills of Masisi, and are terrorizing the local population with impunity, according to residents. The undisciplined militias stir up ethnic rivalries, force children into their ranks and claim taxes, report residents.
“Our army is weak, they cannot protect us, and now they are letting the armed groups do their job. They have no discipline and they create trouble for us. They are drunk most of the time,” said a Felicite, who would only give her first name because she feared reprisals.
North of Rutshuru, the M23’s stronghold, the army is also using local militias to regain territory it had lost in recent months.
“The army sees us as cows. They push us ahead to regain territory and they come after us to settle in the areas we have retaken from our enemies,” said Col. Moise Visika, the second-in-command of the Mai Mai Shetani, a local militia in the areas of Ishasha and Nyamilima.
The city of Goma remains vulnerable. Few government troops came back to Goma after the M23 rebels withdrew from the town, leaving the city susceptible to an M23 comeback despite the presence of UN peacekeepers.
The result of all these factors is that, despite Sunday’s peace agreement, eastern Congo remains threatened by a return to conflict, say experts.
“The overall situation is volatile and precarious,” said Roger Meece, the head of the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo, speaking to the Security Council on Friday. He said that eastern Congo “could break down at any time into large-scale conflict without much, if any, prior warning.”

Indonesian university wages war on Daesh — with animations

Updated 20 April 2018

Indonesian university wages war on Daesh — with animations

  • Films tapped to counter radical propaganda after earlier efforts to publish two short comics largely failed because of the poor reading habits of Indonesian teenagers
  • 20-year-old Syrian war veteran says she regrets falling victim to Daesh online propaganda

JAKARTA: Ahmad met his friends Udin and Ari at a mosque, and Ari asked him why he had not been around for some time. 

When Ahmad said he had just returned from Syria, Ari replied in awe that he, too, wanted to go there to wage "jihad".

When a teacher approached them and asked Ahmad the same question, Ari replied, saying: “He (Ahmad) just returned from Syria to wage jihad. Isn’t that cool?” But Ahmad told both men the caliphate propaganda was false and many innocent people had been killed in the name of the caliphate.

“They were Muslims just like us,” he said. The teacher closed the conversation by saying that Ari had learned his lesson and should understand he did not have to go far to wage jihad. The teacher then asked Ari to join him assisting elderly people.

“This is also jihad,” he said.

Ahmad, Udin and Ari are characters in an animated film entitled “Kembali dari Syria,” or “Returning from Syria,” produced by the Center for the Study of Islam and Social Transformation (Cisform) at Sunan Kalijaga State Islamic University in Yogyakarta. The short film — one of 20 animated clips produced to counter extremism among teenagers — was launched in Jakarta on Wednesday, following the February release of the other productions in Yogyakarta.

Mohammed Wildan, Cisform’s director, told Arab News the films had been made to counter radical propaganda after earlier efforts to publish two short comics largely failed because of the poor reading habits of Indonesian teenagers.

“We decided to develop these animated short clips to expand our reach. They will be more accessible through social media,” Wildan said.

Most of the clips are between 90 seconds and three minutes long, depending on the content.

Wildan said the real challenge was to condense the message with the correct reference to Qur’an and package it in a maximum three-minute clip.

“We are careful when choosing our arguments that cite the Qur’an and the Hadith,” Wildan said.

Lecturers from the university had offered their expertise on specific subjects, he said.

Also present at the film launch was 20-year-old Nur Shadrina Khairadhania, who went to Syria as a teenager with her extended family. She shared her own account of emigrating to the so-called caliphate and explained why going to Syria to wage jihad was wrong.

Speaking to an audience of high school students, Khairadhania said that after her interest in Islam began to grow, she fell victim to Daesh online propaganda introduced to her by an uncle.

“I watched their videos, which showed that life would be really good in the caliphate. I was enticed to join,” Khairadhania said.

She convinced her father, Dwi Djoko Wiwoho, a high-ranking civil servant in Batam, Riau province, as well as her mother and two siblings, to migrate to Syria.

A group of 26 extended members of her family, including two uncles and a grandmother, left for Syria in 2015. After 19 managed to cross the border with Turkey, they quickly discovered that life in the caliphate was very different to the propaganda.

“Everything is contrary to Islamic teaching. A male family member was forced to fight and was put in detention for months when he refused,” she said. 

The family tried for a year to leave and finally returned to Indonesia in August 2017. 

Family members completed a rehabilitation program run by the national counterterrorism agency, but now her father and uncle are facing terrorism charges. 

Rebuilding her life had been difficult because of the stigma of her past, she said.

“But God gave me a second chance to live. This is probably my jihad, to tell the truth to people so no one will be deceived like us,” she said.