Sunday, November 02, 2008

Really, am I the only one here who gives a shit about this stuff?

Updated Sorry to vent like that, but with it being difficult to find anyone talking about anything other than the damned election, and yeah, yeah, I know, it's important and all but for chrissake, do you think the rest of the world ground to a halt for the last few months? - I just get frustrated.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a "fragile" ceasefire between government troops and the forces of rebel leader General Laurent Nkunda appears to be holding and
DR Congo's President Joseph Kabila and Rwandan counterpart Paul Kagame agreed to an emergency summit amid allegations that their armies were aiding rival militias.
But the pain and suffering of those caught in the fighting is escalating.

About one million people have been forced to flee their homes in the years of warfare, some 250,000 of them just since the renewed fighting that began in August. Just recently the rebels advanced to within a few miles of the important city of Goma, located on DR Congo's border with Rwanda, in fighting during which "Nkunda's advance brushed back the Congolese army like a wild pitch across home plate," in the words of one commentator, and perhaps tens of thousands of non-combatants fled.
Government forces abandoned Goma on Wednesday as the rebels advanced on the city, leaving just 850 United Nations peacekeepers between Nkunda's forces and Goma.
But on Thursday, Nkunda declared a ceasefire. Just why is unclear; one source suggested it was because Goma was the site of Nkunda's greatest defeat
when U.N. attack helicopters fired on his fighters advancing on the city in December, killing hundreds of them. It was not clear if that experience influenced his decision.
In light of that it may be more than coincidence that the ceasefire was declared the day after, according to a South African source, South African peacekeepers were involved in "heavy fighting in a major confrontation" with Nkunda's forces in which helicopter gunships were employed. Perhaps that brought back unpleasant memories.

The rebels, however, will have none of that. They insist the decision was strictly humanitarian.
Babou Amane, deputy spokesman for the National Congress for the Defense of the People, said rebel forces had retreated to about 9 miles (15 kilometers) north of the city of Goma to create a "humanitarian corridor."
Aid agencies have been reluctant to test this, but
[a]bout 50 medical personnel from Medecins sans Frontieres [Doctors Without Borders] can move throughout the area relatively unobstructed and supplies are getting in, said Marie-Noelle Rodrigue, the agency's local emergency coordinator.
Nkunda also said that the ceasefire was because he wanted to start working with the UN Mission there to allow people to return to their homes. However, there appears to be a very real question about what he means by "allow."
Tutsi-led rebels tightened their hold on newly seized swaths of eastern Congo Saturday, forcing tens of thousands of frightened, rain-soaked civilians out of makeshift refugee camps and stopping some from fleeing to government-held territory. ...

In Rutshuru, a large town 45 miles (75 kilometers) north of Goma, two groups of refugees hefted bundles of belongings as they plodded home. Some said they were forced by the rebels to leave camps for displaced persons.

"They beat us with sticks and told us that we must get out," said Daria Nyarangaruye, a silver-haired woman with a rosary around her neck and a spent bullet in her hand.
The rebels insist that the people are leaving of their own free will, having been "liberated," but
Associated Press journalists also saw rebels blocking civilians who wanted to cross front lines to return to government-held areas
[t]he UN refugee agency UNHCR said it had received credible reports that rebels had looted and burned camps for displaced people.
(This is not, by the way, to say government troops performed any better: UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay said government forces had gone on a rampage of looting, killing, and rape before abandoning Goma.)

The situation for the refugees is getting desperate. Doctors Without Borders said
it was "extremely concerned about the tens of thousands of people currently on the move, fleeing the fighting." It said they were in "urgent need of clean water, basic items like blankets and shelter materials, and food."

Dozens of people already have died of cholera or severe diarrhea for lack of clean water.
Peter Greste, a correspondent for the BBC, described the scene at one UNICEF feeding center 12 miles (20 km) north of Goma as "dangerously chaotic."
The agency brought in high energy biscuits, emergency food for children, and in minutes, hundreds - perhaps thousands - of people rushed the gates, he says.

Our correspondent says there was a huge crush of desperate families pressing against the fence while others were trying to scale the walls.

He says this is not the way Unicef normally does things, but because the need is so urgent and people are so hungry, they decided to dispense with the usual registration process.

Food is at last beginning to trickle in but it is nowhere near enough for all the children, many of whom are showing symptoms of serious diseases, he adds.
As for the whys of all this, Nkunda insists that his intention is to protect the Tutsi population of eastern DR Congo from attacks by Rwandan Hutu militia operating in the region, charging that the government is actively colluding with them. And like many such conflicts, each side has its arguments and its history.

The conflict here is a spillover and aftermath of the civil wars that ravaged DR Congo for over six years, those conflicts being themselves a spillover from the horrific 1994 Rwandan genocide during which Hutus slaughtered Tutsis literally by the hundreds of thousands. That genocide came during the Rwandan civil war, won eventually by Tutsis, which was sparked in part by the oppression of Tutsi refugees in Uganda who wanted to return home, refugees who initially fled years earlier to escape oppression by the then-ruling Hutus, who had been encouraged to rise up against the previously-ruling Tutsis by the Belgian government when it quit its colony in Rwanda, the Belgians having raised up the Tutsis and repressed the Hutus during their colonial regime.

Got that?

Look, I know that just the other day I apparently mocked the idea of insisting "it's complicated." But this is complicated, with conflicting interests and competing fears. (Not to mention competing economic interests: The area is rich in minerals.) What's more, the point there, as it is here, was not to dismiss complexity per se but to slam the practice of using complexity to avoid moral judgments. And at this point in the story of DR Congo, I have to say that I do make a judgment: I do not trust a single word Laurent Nkunda says.

This is not the first time he has pulled this one-step-forward-one-step-back routine, generating a humanitarian crisis as he did so. And he has in the past lied about supposed genocide against Tutsis in the area.

But even more importantly, more importantly, after all that has gone on there, after all the death, all the blood, all the pain and suffering and homelessness and destruction, both structural and ecological, how can anyone there, anyone, how can he in good conscience pick up a gun and say "this is worth it?"

Updated with a Footnote: This being the morning after the night before, I have to add that yes, of course, I am not the only one here who cares. I know it full well. I also know that there are folks out there - including most of my regular reads - that are talking about things other than the damned election. And yes again, the election is important, or at least some parts of it, such as Prop8, are.

It's just that when I read international news from the dreaded MSM and realize I have read nothing about this or that from our vaunted "alternative news source," particularly the so-called "big blogs," the ones with an audience big enough to have some impact, I get frustrated. And it shows. So if you think the title applied to you, I apologize. Unless it did, in which case I don't.

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