By Editorial Board, Friday, November 23, 5:43 PM
On Tuesday, a rebel group, M23, seized the provincial capital of Goma as Congolese army forces and U.N. peacekeepers fell back. The fighting has intensified an already dire humanitarian crisis. Since the beginning of this year, more than 650,000 people have been uprooted in the regions of North and South Kivu. A series of fragile peace agreements reached in recent years are in tatters.
In the broadest sense, what’s unfolding is a result of the vacuum created by Congo’s weakness as a state. As the author and Congo analyst Jason Stearns has pointed out, the government in Kinshasa under President Joseph Kabila can’t impose rule of law or its military writ in the region, leading armed groups to fill the space. TheInternational Crisis Group described the latest rebellion as, in part, the result of failure to implement earlier accords, failure to reform the army and failure to start a serious political dialogue. The presence of a 19,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping force has done little to halt the conflict.
Rwanda, which borders Congo to the east, sees this mineral-rich swath of Congo as a sphere of influence. Rwanda’s role in supplying arms and support to the M23 rebels cannot be underestimated, despite denials. A U.N. reportjust published concludes that Rwanda has provided “direct military support” to the rebels, including “arms, ammunition, intelligence and political advice.” Uganda is also believed to be aiding the rebels.
Rwanda and Uganda should stop their meddling, and the United States and Britain must turn up the pressure on Rwanda to halt support for the rebels. That will take more than quiet diplomacy. A U.N. Security Council resolution approved Tuesday called for sanctions against the rebel leaders but stopped short of naming Rwanda. All sides need to recognize they are sliding once again toward the killing fields and to come to their senses before the bloody wars of the past are repeated.