A separatist show of force ends in bloodshed in DR Congo

Pro-independence Kantangese activists out on the streets of Lubumbashi on March 23, 2013, before the protest turned violent.
 
A group of pro-independence activists tried to march on Lubumbashi in the Katanga region, in southern Democratic Republic of Congo on Saturday. The army quickly fought off the separatists, some of whom say they are Maï Maï fighters, in clashes that left several dozen dead. 
 
Video from the march and the resulting violence, posted on congomikilinews, a YouTube channel.
 
The Maï Maï are community-based militia groups active in DR Congo who don’t necessarily coordinate with one another and frequently have different motivations. They are known for their rigid discipline and brutally practices (rape, torture, and the use of child soldiers).
 
According to our local Observers, between 100 and 200 of these separatists reached Lubumbashi in the late morning armed with Kalashnikovs and machetes. They arrived from Rwashi, to the east of Lubumbashi, where they had assembled.
 
On their way, the separatists encountered a police camp and tried to lower the Congolese flag and raise the Katangese flag in its place. A fight broke out between the separatists and the police, resulting in the deaths of several separatists. Undeterred, they continued on to the Katangese capital, where the Congolese army fought them back. Several separatist fighters were killed, as shown in the pictures taken by our Observers. The rebels finally took refuge in the offices of Monusco, the United Nations force in DR Congo, after surrendering their weapons. The UN officers then turned them over to the Katangese authorities, who transferred them on Sunday to the capital, Kinshasa. Their fate remains uncertain.
The Congolese army unleashed fatal force upon the separatists.
 
 
 
The Congolese army unleashed deadly force on the separatists.
 
The region of Katanga has been the scene of a separatist uprising for several decades. This conflict has intensified due to the decentralization process launched in 2006, which aims to give more responsibilities to the country’s eleven provinces. However, the reform has stalled and fallen out of favour with the separatists from the “Kata Katanga” (“Break Katanga”) movement, some of whom attempted to march on Lubumbashi last weekend. These rebels believe that Katanga, the economic powerhouse of the DR Congo, should benefit more from the country’s copper and cobalt wealth. 
 
Separatists on Saturday, March 23 in Lubumbashi.
 
Children were among the separatists.

“Other separatists have been hiding out in the surrounding villages”

“The Kantagese” is a journalist for Oasis, a radio and television station in the Katanga province.
 
The rebels entered the city on foot. I was about 20 metres from the group and could count somewhere between 100 to 200 men. They were dressed in civilian clothes and wore green, red, and white headbands to represent the colours of the Katangese flag. Several of them were armed. I counted around two dozen Kalashnikovs and many machetes, sometimes carried by children between the ages of 10 and 16.
 
I think these men were trying to show a display of force. Above all, they wanted to demonstrate that they could enter Lubumbashi in any way or at any time they pleased, in broad daylight. It was a way to put pressure on the local authorities.
 
According to the stories I’ve heard, they did not intend to fight but rather wanted to pressure the local authorities on Katanga’s independence. The army ordered them to retreat, but the separatists refused to do so, and clashes ensued. Recently, separatists attempted to take over the Lubumbashi airport and got into a firefight with the army. For this reason, the army was particularly suspicious of their coming to Lubumbashi. However, their defeat on Saturday will not prevent other men from threatening the city: several sources claimed that men from the ‘Kata Katanga’ have been hiding out in the surrounding villages.
 
In contrast to the manner in which they’re typically presented in the media, these rebels aren’t all Maï-Maï. Some certainly are, but what really unites the whole group is their wish for an independent Katanga. They want this independence because they believe that copper and cobalt revenues are currently not benefiting Katanga enough, that these resources are unfairly dispersed throughout the entire country. The separatists also believe that the mines are disproportionately exploited by Asian expatriates.
 

“The separatist rebels thought the local residents would join their cause, but they were wrong”

“Dieudonnne” is 27 years old and is a social science student in Lubumbashi. He witnessed the conflict on Saturday.
 
In my opinion, the separatists came to the city thinking that local residents would join their cause. But they were wrong, because when they entered Lubumbashi, people really panicked. They fled seeing these men armed with AK-47s and machetes.

I don’t share the separatists’ desire for an independent Katanga. That would even further destabilize DR Congo, which has too many problems already. It’s a big country, very hard to build — it’s really not a good idea to break it up.
 
I am also against independence because these separatists are linked to anti-Kabila groups [Joseph Kabil is DR Congo’s president] who want to destabilise our country. How else would they be getting all these weapons?
 

Comments

Reply to comment | The Observers

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