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Congo conflict: the background

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 31 October 2008

The current crisis in Democratic Republic of Congo has its roots in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Our international editor, Lindsey Hilsum, explains the history of the conflict between Laurent Nkunda's rebels and the Congolese army:

"In 1994, a racist government told Rwanda's majority Hutu people to massacre their Tutsi neighbours. It was genocide.

"When a new Tutsi-led regime took power, the Hutus, many of whom had taken part in the killing, fled to the Congo.

"War followed them: Rwanda's Tutsi-led government pursued the Hutu genocidaires, who were hiding in the Congolese bush.

"The government of Congo joined forces with the Hutus. Four million died in the subsequent conflict.

"At one point five African countries were involved in the war in Democratic Republic of Congo. Local Tutsi rebels fighting Congolese forces were backed by troops from Rwanda and Uganda.

"The Congolese government then called on Angola, Zimbabwe and Namibia, all of whom sent troops.

"The result was plunder and slaughter. Until a peace deal was signed, foreign armies, local warlords and government soldiers fought for control of mines producing tin, copper, coltan and cassiterite - valuable minerals.

"As foreign armies withdrew, new local warlords emerged, including Laurent Nkunda, a Congolese Tutsi backed by Rwanda. Last year, he celebrated a peace deal with the Congolese government.

"But now, he's breached that. He says he's trying to defeat the last of the Rwandese Hutu genocidaires, to protect the Tutsis. Others say he just wants power and money.

"Now, UN peacekeepers fear the conflict will spread, drawing in neighbouring countries once more."

Key dates

  • The five-year-long civil war (which involved five other African countries) ended in 2003.

  • Democratic elections were held in 2006, and president Joseph Kabila was inaugurated in December. During the election period there was armed conflict in the Congo's capital, Kinshasa, which resulted in civilian casualties.

  • A peace deal was struck in January 2008 between the Democratic Republic of Congo's government and armed groups, including Nkunda's rebels, but later collapsed.

Country background

Democratic Republic of Congo is the size of western Europe and borders nine other countries: Zambia, Angola and Congo to the south and west, Central African Republic and Sudan to the north, and Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania to the east.

The central African country has rich mineral resources, but is one of the poorest in the world.

The population is around 60 million - similar to that of the UK, but half are under 18 years old and only a similar proportion have access to clean water.

The Kivu provinces, focus of the current troubles, lie to the east, on the border with Rwanda. Goma, in North Kivu, has a population of one million.

The UN presence

The UN's peacekeeping mission in Democratic Republic of Congo is its biggest in the world, with 17,000 troops spread across the vast country.

But the agency says its peacekeepers are stretched to the limit.

There are around 6,500 troops in North Kivu. The UN is redeploying troops to support the 850 peacekeepers in the city of Goma.

The UN refugee agency says more than a million people have fled their homes in North Kivu.

It is extremely concerned about the plight of 50,000 people in camps to the north of Goma: the agency said today it was trying to verify reports that several camps in the Kivu town of Rutshuru, about 90km north of Goma, have been forcibly emptied, looted and burned.

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