Congo Replaces Army Chief to Fight Rebel Groups in Tin-Rich East

The Democratic Republic of Congo appointed General Emmanuel Lombe to lead the fight against rebel groups in the country’s mineral-rich North Kivu province, government spokesman Lambert Mende said.

Lombe replaces General Lucien Bahuma, 57, who died from a stroke on Aug. 30, Mende said by phone today from the capital, Kinshasa.

North Kivu is a key tin-producing province in Africa’s biggest source of the metal. Bahuma was considered a key ally by United Nations forces who assisted President Joseph Kabila’s efforts to fight rebel groups in the eastern part of the country. The M23 rebel group ended its 20-month rebellion in eastern Congo in December after the national army and UN peacekeepers conquered most of its territory.

During the U.S.-Africa summit in Washington last month, Special Envoy to the Great Lakes region Russell Feingold praised Kabila for the military’s efforts against M23.

“Over a year ago, M23 was a very dangerous threat in the region,” Feingold said. “They were defeated by combination of diplomatic and military efforts.”

The process of reintegrating some of those rebels into society is now under way, Feingold said, though “there are other armed groups in eastern Congo that threaten the people of that region and destabilize the region and beyond.”

Hundreds of students protested in North Kivu’s capital, Goma, at the weekend to demand an investigation into Bahuma’s death, amid speculation that he might have been poisoned, UN-backed Radio Okapi reported on on Sept. 1.

Death Speculation

The students also called for an investigation into the January death of another respected military leader, Colonel Mamadou Mustafa Ndala, the broadcaster said. Ndala’s convoy was attacked near the border with Uganda on Jan. 2. That led to speculation in Congolese media that elements within the national army, the Forces Armees de la Republique Democratique du Congo, or FARDC, might have killed him to thwart his efforts to lead reform efforts.

“An army is not one person,” Mende said after Bahuma’s death. Bahuma “was the boss, he had allies, but the fight will continue,” he said.

Unless there is reason to believe Bahuma died of anything other than a stroke, there will be no further investigation into his death, Mende said. Bahuma may be difficult to replace and his death may undermine military operations in North Kivu, said Christoph Wille, an analyst at London-based Control Risks.

“Bahuma played a key role in improving the FARDC’s performance in recent months” Wille said. “FARDC suffers from severe shortcomings following the chaotic integration of numerous rebel groups into its ranks over the past decade. Parallel chains of command, collusion with militias and its poor human-rights record have undermined its credibility.”

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