Sunday, November 30, 2008

Nkunda's Larger Plan

The ceasefire in the Democratic Republic of Congo held only long enough for Laurent Nkunda to find another target of opportunity, this time the town of Ishasha on the border with Uganda. His successful attack there expands the territory under his control eastward from Rutshuru.

Some big questions remain about what Nkunda is trying to accomplish. His avowed goal was first to protect the minority Tutsi population in the DRC, the Banyamulenge, but that morphed into his stated ambition to take his army across the country and topple Joseph Kabila's government in Kinshasa. On a more prosaic note, some believe Nkunda's goal was simply to regain control of the Lueshe Mine, a source of the strategic mineral niobium that at its peak employed 3500 men. That might be a nice side benefit, but my guess is he and his backers have their eyes on a much larger prize: control of the entire North Kivu province with its rich cassiterite, gold, and coltan deposits.

As Amnesty International explains:

Most of North Kivu's mineral resources are found in Walikale territory, in the west of the province, an area so far unaffected by the fighting. At least some of these minerals are transported through Goma and into Rwanda. The Walikale mining sector is outside effective state control and many mines are under the physical control of unintegrated national army forces or armed groups, including the FDLR. The commercial interests in these mines are shadowy but reportedly extend to important figures in government circles as well as to Congolese Tutsi businessmen. These latter are rumoured to be the financial backers of Laurent Nkunda's rebellion.
The tip off is Nkunda's demand that Kabila's government make a place for him and his army in the hierarchy governing the country. Having the imprimatur of Kinshasa on his army--even a false one earned under duress--would lessen the danger that MONUC or other outside forces would interfere with his plans. That legitimacy would also clear the way for him to attack other outlaws like Congolese Colonel Samy Matumo, who controls the rich cassiterite mines in Walikale territory with the renegade 85th Brigade of the FARDC, supposedly part of the DRC army. Kabila's government has been unable to manage Matumo even though he technically reports to Kinshasa. He's believed to be operating the mines in an alliance with the FDLR.

Nkunda has also demanded that Kabila's government renegotiate contracts recently made with Chinese mining concerns for development in the region.

Nkunda's original excuse for rampaging through the eastern provinces was to protect the minority Tutsis from the depredations of the remnants of the Interahamwe (FDLR) that committed the 1994 Rwandan genocide and then fled into the DRC. If Nkunda becomes the semi-legitimate military governor of the entire province, there would be nothing to prevent him from moving against them--and the mines they control.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Slash and Burn

Taken while researching Heart of Diamonds

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Friday, November 28, 2008

Arrest Nkunda Now Petition Online

The following guest post is by Joseph Robert:

The web site, , provides information about war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by troups under Nkunda 's command since 2002 . The website is also launching a petition calling on concerned people around the world to demand that MONUC immediately arrest Nkunda for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The U.N.'s biggest peacekeeping mission will soon be over 20,000 in Congo "must ensure that those responsible for serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian laws are brought to justice" said Mr. Kyubwa.

Nkunda is accused of multiple war crimes and crimes against humanity of which most cases are well documented by various human right organzations including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. In September 2005, the Congolese government issued an arrest warrant for Nkunda, accusing him of numerous war crimes and crimes against human rights. Human Rights Watch, for example, which has been calling for his arrest for war crimes and crimes against humanity since February 2006 has documented summary executions, torture and rape committed by soldiers under the command of Nkunda in Bukavu in 2004 and in Kisangani in 2002. Also armed groups loyal to warlord Nkunda have been repeatedly accused of using rape as a weapon of war and the recruitment of child soldiers, some as young as 12 after the abduction from their homes.

According to Mr. Kyubwa, NKunda continues to be involved in the committing of crimes in DRC, and in particular in the province of North Kivu, where again groups armed acting under his command are reportedly responsible for killing civilian systematically in the town of Kiwanja. The continuing horrific killing of civilians testifies that Human Rights Watch was absolutely reasonable in its warning then in 2006 and it’s today. “So long as Nkunda is at large, the civilian population remains at grave risk"

The website encourages concerned people around the world to sign a petition to demand that MONUC immediately arrest Nkunda for war crimes and crimes against humanity. For more information please call the project coordinator in the United States , Amede Kyubwa at (916) 753 5717 or email:

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Heart of Diamonds Interviews and Reviews

Interviews and reviews highlighted this week's Heart of Diamonds virtual book tour.

The Printed Page
Review Your Book
The Plot - An Interview with Valerie Grey
The Plot - An Excerpt from Heart of Diamonds
The Book Connection
Fiction Scribe

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Hazy Hot

Hot Uganda Village
Taken while researching Heart of Diamonds

Friday, November 21, 2008

Rebels Win First Battle In Congo War

The Battle of Rutshuru is over and Laurent Nkunda is the clear winner. The foreign diplomats have come and gone, their sound bites dutifully recorded by the reporters, most of whom will soon be gone themselves. The United Nations has voted to send an additional 3,000 peacekeepers to the region, a noble thought but likely irrelevant to the current situation since it may take as long as four months for them to arrive on the scene.

The battle itself was fought over the last ten weeks between Laurent Nkunda's National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP), the official Congolese army, the Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC), and local mai-mai militia groups. The CNDP conquered as much new territory in the mineral-rich North and South Kivu Provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as they could swallow in one bite. As they were destroying refugee camps and pushing the boundaries of their domain outward, the wrongly-mandated and thinly-deployed UN troops stood by and watched while the corrupt, ineffectual FARDC troops ran away, looting, raping, and pillaging as they went. The mai-mai militias, dislodged from their own little territories, skirmished with the CNDP, but spent most of their time murdering the civilians they claimed to be protecting and attacking the government troops who were supposed to be their allies.

As the one-sided battle unfolded, UN Commander Lieutenant General Vicente Diaz de Villegas y Herreria of Spain resigned for "personal reasons" and DRC President Joseph Kabila sacked his defense and interior ministers.

Nkunda stopped at the outskirts of the regional capitol of Goma, declared a ceasefire, then withdrew a few kilometers to consolidate his winnings. He's now in the process of installing loyalists in village government positions, collecting taxes from the civilian population, and exacting tribute from commercial interests attempting to operate in his territory.

Nkunda not only won control of much valuable territory, he also gained a seat at the head of the bargaining table. Joseph Kabila and other heads of state may refuse to negotiate with the renegade general, but Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, serving as Special Envoy from the UN, sat down with him during his latest foray into the region.

The first battle has been won. Now Nkunda will solidify control over his territory, build up his army with supplies from Rwanda and child soldiers impressed from the villages he's conquered, and prepare to swallow another piece of Congo. Goma could be next, but he will probably find it easier to simply surround the capitol and win the entire region through negotiation from a position of strength.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Refugees Flee to Uganda

One of the areas I visited while researching Heart of Diamonds was Ishasha in Uganda, which is located about five km (three miles) south of Lake Albert on the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo. That region is today overrun by refugees from the clashes between Laurent Nkunda's rebel forces and militias backed by the Congolese army.

abandoned hut in Ishasha

"There was an influx of 2,000 people who crossed into Ishasha last evening (Tuesday)," said Roberta Russo, the spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)in Uganda.
Most of the Congolese in Ishasha wanted to be transported to the Nakivale, a large refugee camp in Uganda's Mbarara district, she added. We traveled through that region, too, just a little over a year ago.

The latest influx brought the total number of refugee arrivals in Uganda since the ceasefire in Congo broke down to more than 14,500. They are part of the estimated 250,000 civilians displaced by the fighting since August.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Greatest Silence: Rape In The Congo

Lisa Jackson's moving documentary, The Greatest Silence: Rape In The Congo, airs this Thursday on HBO2 at 10:30 PM Eastern Time. Rape is taking place on an epic scale in the Democratic Republic of Congo, destroying the lives of thousands of women and their families. Emmy®-winning filmmaker Lisa Jackson shot this inspiring documentary in the war zones of the DRC. It's not to be missed.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Monday, November 17, 2008

NY Times Explains Congo Perfectly

For an excellent explanation of the cause behind the unending war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, see the New York Times article that ran Sunday, November 17, 2008.

Reporter Lydia Polgreen tells how Colonel Samy Matumo and his renegade brigade collects an outlandish $80,000,000 annually from the mining region he controls in North Kivu. She also describes the living and working conditions faced by the people of the region, which could have been lifted unchanged from accounts of King Leopold's reign over the Congo.

Polgreen's explanation of how a private army can operate unfettered in today's Congo is spot-on, too. She explores the quandaries faced by the UN, the Congolese government to whom Colonel Matumo technically reports, and the South African mining company that has the legal right to mine the area.

The situation described in this article is emblematic of the struggle to control the Congo's riches, a struggle that has cost nearly six million lives in the last ten years.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Online Book Tour For Heart of Diamonds

My virtual book tour is proceeding apace, with more stops logged this week:

Book Publishing Secrets
If Books Could Talk
The Writer's Life
Divine Caroline

You'll find posts such as an account of how Heart of Diamonds made it from my scribblings to the bookstore shelves, an examination of my work habits (good and bad), and the inside details on the creative process that produced Heart of Diamonds.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Adolescent Mountain Gorillas

Mountain Gorillas in Bwindi
Taken while researching Heart of Diamonds

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

What Does Nkunda Want?

Renegade general Laurent Nkunda launched a new offensive in the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo on August 28, capturing large swaths of territory and stopping at the edge of Goma, the regional capitol. The conflict has reportedly drawn Rwandan and Angolan troops into the region, created 250,000 new civilian refugees, and threatens to become the Third Congo War.

The question is, why?

Nkunda has always said he was fighting to protect minority Tutsis from Rwandan Hutu rebels, remnants of the Interhamwe who carried out the 1994 genocide and then fled to Congo.

Along the way, however, Nkunda has begun collecting taxes in the regions under his control, and even went so far at one point to set up a customs post on the border with Uganda to collect tariffs on goods crossing the border. He has repeatedly demanded tribute from companies operating mines and other businesses in the region.

Although Nkunda himself has been careful to not be quoted saying it, his supporters have referred to the territory as the nation of Virunga, indicating that his plans for the mineral-rich region may include establishment of an independent state.

Lately, Nkunda says he is fighting to "liberate" all of Congo from Joseph Kabila's allegedly corrupt government. He recently threatened to march across the huge country and conquer the capitol of Kinshasa if his demands are not met. That threat may not be as far-fetched as it seems.

Nkunda has been accused of crimes against humanity, and Congo's government issued an international arrest warrant against him after he defected from the army in 2004. It cites war crimes including massacres of civilians in 2002, when he was still in the army, and in 2004 when he took his rebellion to eastern Bukavu town.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Monday, November 10, 2008

A Refugee Story

Bloggers UniteThe refugee count keeps climbing in the Democratic Republic of Congo as fighting between the Congolese army and rebel warlord Laurent Nkunda drives more and more people from their homes. Recent tallies by the United Nations add more than 250,000 people to the rolls of displaced persons, bringing the total to over a million.

Numbers are only part of the story, of course. It's highly likely that a huge percentage of these people will eventually become casualties, killed by starvation and disease, dying of despair. I wrote about the plight of refugees in the Congo in this passage from Heart of Diamonds:

"That is Ogastine," Frannie explained quietly. "She was raped by seven men in front of her husband and children. One of them used a plantain to humiliate her even more." Bobby turned the camera on Frannie, who ignored it and kept on talking. "She had to take her children and go live in the hills when her husband kicked her out."

"Why did he do that?" Valierie asked.

"He was sure she had contracted a disease from the men who raped her, so he didn't want anything to do with her anymore. Her children all died in the bush. There were three of them."

As Frannie told Ogastine's story, Valerie felt the anguish draw around her like a dark curtain. She mentally pushed it back so she could focus on Frannie and the story. "How did her children die?" she asked gently.

"I don't know for sure, but probably from what you and I would consider a minor disease. It could have been just a simple infection. Like most of these kids, they were probably under-fed to start with. Weak. That means just about any medical problem becomes life threatening. The massacres and battle get press coverage, but nobody ever reports on how many people die from the real effects of civil war. Disruption of the food supply and lack of medical care kill a lot more people than bullets. More than five million have died in the Congo since 1998. The shame is, almost all of them die from treatable diseases like malaria and diarrhea, aggravated by living in a permanent war zone."
Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Civilians Killed By Both Sides In Congo Conflict

UN investigators are already researching war crimes against civilians committed during the latest outbreak of violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo's Kivu provinces. What they found near the village of Kiwanja is a story that could easily have come from Heart of Diamonds.

UN spokeswoman Sylive van den Wildenberg said investigators visited eleven graves containing what villagers said were 26 bodies. Anneke Van Woudenberg, a researcher for Human Rights Watch told the Associated Press that their reports are of more than 50 dead, but haven't been confirmed.

Witnesses said they suffered two waves of killings. First the mai-mai militia, backers of the Congolese government, came and killed people it accused of supporting renegade general Laurent Nkunda, then the rebels won control and killed those they charged with supporting the militia, targeting people from the Nande tribe for assassination. The local mai-mai draws its fighters from that tribe.

Nkunda's rebels also looted and burned homes and businesses, according to witnesses. Many victims were killed execution style with bullets to the head, then dressed in military uniforms.

The UN has been unable to protect civilians in the fighting that broke out in August. The peacekeepers have a well-established base near Kiwanja but has only 120 soldiers in the town of about 40,000. UN military spokesman Colonel Jean-Paul Dietrich told the AP that the UN troops were pinned down under crossfire for some of the first day of the killings, and were trying to deter rebel attacks on two other nearby towns, Nyanzale and Kikuku, on the second day.

The incidents occurred about fifty miles north of Goma, the regional capitol.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Yet One More Congo War Fatality

When rebels seized the headquarters of Virunga National Park--home to 200 of the world's 700 remaining endangered mountain gorillas--some 50 rangers fled into the forests and abandoned the park station. Intense fighting between the Congolese army and the rebels loyal to dissident General Laurent Nkunda drove them into the mountains where they spent days trying to return home, walking without food or shelter, trying to avoid the violence around them.

They all made it except for one, who was reported today to have died from cholera contracted in the refugee camp in Goma.

In the last decade, 120 rangers have died due to the civil conflict in the DRC. These brave men have received no wages recently and a lot of equipment was lost or broken during the flight. Given the accelerating conflict in the region, it's not likely they will be able to return to the park anytime soon.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The Wave

Welcome to Siankaba
Taken while researching Heart of Diamonds

Friday, November 7, 2008

More About Heart of Diamonds

For those who would like to know more about Heart of Diamonds, here are five more places to read about it. They include author interviews, reviews, and selections from my romantic thriller about love, scandal, and death in the Congo.

Beyond The Books
Book Reviews and Author Interviews
The Dark Phantom
The Story Behind The Book
The Library At The End Of The Universe

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Full War Around The Corner In Congo

The Congo continues to move closer to full-scale war even as Laurent Nkunda's National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP) honors its self-proclaimed ceasefire in the region around Goma in North Kivu. While Nkunda solidifies his positions surrounding the city, his troops are fighting with units of the ethnic militia PARECO in a village about two kilometers outside Rutshuru in rebel-held territory.

PARECO, the Coalition of Congolese Patriotic Resistance, is a movement claiming to unite non-Rwandan peoples as well as some Hutu in North Kivu. Nkunda, a Tutsi warlord with ties to the Rwandan government of Paul Kagame, says his army's goal is to protect Tutsi inhabitants of the DRC from the remnants of the Hutu Interahamwe who fled to the DRC after the genocide of 1994 and today operate in the region under the acronym FDLR.

Nkunda's actions, however, point more toward establishment of a separate "Republic of Virunga," an autonomous state in the mineral-rich area. As he has claimed more and more territory, he has increased his control over the civil administration, police, the intelligence service, the distribution of land, and the collection of taxes and tariffs. He's also demanded a say in appointment of the provincial governor and other officials.

The Congolese army and the over-stretched UN forces have been unable to block Nkunda's advance. Of the UN's 17,000 troops in the country, about 5,000 are currently deployed in North Kivu, with 1,700 of them holding Goma, a city that has swelled to over 700,000 residents. Nkunda is believed to lead an army of 5,000.

The warlord isn't acting alone, however. The UN also acknowledges for the first time that Rwandan government forces aided Nkunda's troops during the recent rout of the DRC army. Rwandan forces fired tank shells and other heavy artillery across the border at Congolese troops during fighting last week and intelligence reports from UN observers say there are Rwandan soldiers integrated into the rebel forces. Rwanda has denied the charges, just as they did the last two times the country invaded the DRC.

During the Second Congo War, eight neighboring countries weighed in on one side or the other. In addition to Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi fought against the Congolese national army while forces from Zimbabwe, Angola, Chad, Sudan, and Namibia provided support for the government. Some 25 armed militias weighed in as well. Today, Kabila's government has appealed for help from Angola and Nkunda's supporters have accused Zimbabwe of mobilizing troops in the Congo as well.

In the meantime, Nkunda continues to demand negotiations with the DRC government to legitimize his control of the territory he's conquered and threatens to lead an assault on the capital of Kinshasa if he doesn't get recognition.

More than 200,000 civilians have been driven from their homes by the fighting, adding to the nearly 800,000 already displaced. In addition to lack of food and medical care, there have been reports of selective killings by Nkunda's troops, who also drove refugees from some camps. Government troops were reported to have looted and pillaged parts of Goma as they retreated early in the fighting.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Saturday, November 1, 2008

My Web Tour Begins

I'm touring the web this month to talk about Heart of Diamonds and the situation in the Congo. Three of the early stops tell the story behind the story and how I came to write a romantic thriller about blood diamonds. You can read more at Beyond The Books, The 1st Page, and The Story Behind The Book.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Tree Sleeping Lion

Ishasha Tree Sleeping Lion
Taken while researching Heart of Diamonds

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