Civil society opposes withdrawal of troops from Congolese communities targeted by LRA
In recent months the M23 rebellion has severely destabilized eastern Congo, displacing 260,000 people in North Kivu province and raising doubts about whether Congolese troops can maintain control of key towns such as Goma. In an attempt to stem the advance of the M23 rebels, Congolese officials decided two weeks ago to redeploy the US-trained 391st Congolese battalion from LRA-affected areas of northern Congo to North Kivu. Congolese military positions along the major roads between Aba, Dungu, and Duru–roads that have been one of the main targets of LRA attacks over the past two years–are reportedly being abandoned.
The decision has sparked an outcry among civil society leaders in Dungu, northern Congo, who fear dire consequences if these troops, who in many cases are the only thing standing between civilians and the LRA, are removed. “The authorities are trying to nurture ambitions to destabilize the region again,” said the president of a civil society group, urging the government to reverse its decision.
The 391st battalion of the Congolese military has played an important role in protecting civilians since being deployed in northern Congo in mid-2011. They have also behaved better than other Congolese troops deployed in LRA-affected areas, who often commit abuses against the very civilians they are tasked with protecting. Congolese civil society delegates Father Benoit and Sister Angelique, who recently travelled to Washington, DC to brief US officials on the LRA crisis, both voiced support for US efforts to train the 391st battalion in its efforts against the LRA during their trip.
The withdrawal of the 391st battalion comes at a time when LRA violence against Congolese civilians is sharply escalating. After reportedly committing 71 attacks against civilians and abducting 77 people in Congo in the latter half of 2011, LRA forces reportedly committed 155 attacks and abducted 222 people in Congo in the first half of 2012. LRA attacks this year have been concentrated in Haut Uele district, particularly along the road from Dungu towards Aba, from which troops from the 391st are being pulled. Though Congolese policymakers have difficult decisions to make about where to deploy their troops given the threat posed by M23 and LRA rebels, leaving Congolese communities more vulnerable to LRA attacks than they already are should not be an option.