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Amid Ongoing Election Insecurity, Popular North Kivu Opposition Leader Arrested

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Amid Ongoing Election Insecurity, Popular North Kivu Opposition Leader Arrested

Posted by Sarah Zingg Wimmer on February 8, 2012

Amid Ongoing Election Insecurity, Popular North Kivu Opposition Leader Arrested

GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo — Early on the morning of February 2, Member of Parliament Bakungu Mitondeke and his family were awakened by the arrival of heavily armed soldiers that prompted a firefight between the Congolese troops and Mitondeke’s personal security guards. The Provincial Security Committee had ordered a weapon search throughout the city of Goma, including at the house of Mitondeke. Two soldiers, two policemen, and a security guard died in the skirmish, and an additional six police officers and another security guard were injured.

Once inside the compound, the soldiers allegedly found 10 AK-47 rifles, 10 hand grenades, several smoke grenades, and 50 Congolese soldier uniforms, according to U.N. sources. Mitondeke along with 15 other family members and people at the house, including his wife and children, were arrested, while undisciplined soldiers started looting the private belongings of the parliamentarian, according to neighbors. Close associates of the family later reported that some of family members were tortured. Given Mitondeke’s immunity as a parliamentarian, he was taken to the Supreme Court of Justice in Kinshasa the following day and then put under house arrest, awaiting a possible trial.  

Given what the government troops reportedly found, the search and arrest could be plausible and justified, but some civil society members in Goma are vocally protesting the government’s account of the raid and Mitondeke’s alleged culpability. Civil society leaders, including the head of North Kivu’s Intercommunity Group, Alphonso Kubuya, who is an ethnic Hunde like the MP, allege that the cache discovery was fabrication. However, it will be difficult to prove the weapon deposit a forgery amid prevalent accusations that Mitondeke has been collaborating with armed groups.

After Mitondeke was elected as an MP representing Goma in 2006, he left Kabila’s PPRD party to run for a legislative seat in his home of Masisi, as a  candidate for Vitale Kamerhe’s Union pour la Nation Congolaise, or UNC, in the 2011 elections. Mitondeke has a large following among his own ethnic Hunde community in Masisi. He reportedly collaborated with the Mayi-Mayi armed group APCLS to affect the allocation of legislative seats by increasing voter registration in Masisi where strong ethnic Tutsi politicians, aligned with the Rwanda linked ex-CNDP, threatened limiting Hunde representation, according to the latest U.N. Group of Expert’s report. According to the group’s research, Mitondeke and the APCLS’s relationship has grown close to the extent that Mitondeke has assumed political leadership of the movement, as well as provided the fighters with weapons and advised against integration into the Congolese army.

Mitondeke has also been accused of being in contact with Colonel Albert Kahasha, who recently defected from the army along with about 30 FARDC soldiers allegedly to create an armed group to fight the ex-CNDP domination in North Kivu and to counter the ex-CNDP’s alleged involvement in influencing the outcome of last year’s elections. The ultimate goal would be to install Etienne Tshisekedi, the main opposition figure and self-proclaimed president, as the legitimate leader of Congo—or to even create a separate Eastern Congo state.

There have also been rumors that Mitondeke was recruiting youth from Masisi and Goma where he allegedly is supporting a militia, according to U.N. sources. General Mayala, the army’s regional commander, who was in charge of the house search, went so far as to say an attack on the city was imminent. The general said six women  reportedly were coming from Kibumba were captured trying to enter Goma with explosives the same day Mitondeke was arrested and may have been connected to the alleged attempted rebellion.

Not long before his arrest, Mitondeke told Enough he was among the winners in last year’s parliamentarian elections until the preliminary results were altered to exclude Hunde and other opposition candidates. APCLS responded to such alleged ballot falsification by threatening with attacks, which finally subdued once the electoral commission referred Masisi, along five other electoral districts, to the Supreme Court for cancellation of the legislative elections.

To date, however, it has not been determined how the electoral process in these six locations will proceed. Certainly incidents like the one involving MP Mitondeke have the potential to spur a flare-up of ethnic tension in Masisi, which could possibly endanger a new round of legislative elections in this restive North Kivu territory.

Photo: Congolese crowd gathered to see Vital Kamerhe (Enough Project / Sarah Zingg Wimmer)