A pro-government militia said on Saturday their forces would cease fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo), one day after their rebel rivals declared a ceasefire with government forces.
The political chief of the so-called Pareco militia, Sendugu Museveni, said that since the rebels want “peace, it means we have no reason to fight.”
It was not immediately clear, however, whether the truce would herald an end to violence in the DR Congo. Pareco is just one of dozens of armed groups from Rwanda and Congo who have battled one another and the army in the region for more than a decade.
The leader of the main Congolese rebel faction, Laurent Nkunda, is not involved in the truce, but it is unclear how much power he still has.
His former chief of staff, Bosco Ntaganda, announced a ceasefire with the government on Friday that was applauded by authorities.
Ntaganda broke away from Nkunda earlier this month and said the rebel chief was no longer the group’s leader. Nkunda denies the claim and has yet to comment publicly on the latest peace moves.
Rwanda’s powerful army chief of staff, James Kabarebe, attended the Goma meeting on Friday and his presence could indicate that Rwanda backs Ntaganda — which, if true, would be a devastating blow for Nkunda.
Ntaganda is wanted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, for allegedly forcibly conscripting child soldiers in the Ituri region five years ago.
Some analysts speculate that Ntaganda may be trying to broker a deal to avoid being extradited for trial.
Museveni said he hoped Ntaganda’s call for a truce was sincere, but conceded “we are not sure.”
Pareco commander Colonel Mugabo Baguma said the militia would back any operations against Congo-based Rwandan Hutu militias, whose leaders helped orchestrate Rwanda’s 1994 genocide. Pareco has traditionally been loosely allied with the Rwandan militias.
The presence of the Rwandan militias in the DR Congo has given the mostly Tutsi rebels of Nkunda and Ntaganda reason to fight for years, and Baguma said if the militias were “not around, the resolve to end the war will be there.”
Years of sporadic violence intensified late last year, when Nkunda’s rebels forced the army into a humiliating retreat, advancing toward the outskirts of the regional capital of the eastern DR Congo, Goma. The fighting displaced more than 250,000 people.
Nkunda, an ethnic Tutsi, says his rebels are fighting to protect Congo’s minority Tutsis from the Hutu militia that fled to the country after helping perpetrate the 1994 genocide that killed more than half a million Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Rwanda.
His critics contend he is more interested in power and the country’s mineral wealth.
Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch said Ugandan rebels in the eastern DR Congo had killed at least 620 people in the past month and vulnerable civilians in the region desperately needed protection.
Human Rights Watch said many of the attacks carried out by Lord’s Resistance Army rebels appeared to have been premeditated, and victims’ skulls were crushed with wooden bats and axes.
Researchers from the New York-based organization gathered testimony and evidence on a two-week mission to the region with staff from the Congolese rights group Justice Plus.
They said on Saturday that in one attack on Dec. 25 in the village of Batande, rebels slaughtered the men and boys with blows to the head and raped women and girls in a nearby forest before killing them by crushing their skulls. Some 80 people died, they said.