By David Lewis
ABIDJAN, Oct 31 (Reuters) - Fleeing for their lives just two years after voting in elections, civilians in east Congo must wonder what it will take to ever pacify their rich but flawed nation.
Gunfire and artillery have, for now, been replaced by flurries of diplomacy. But that is unlikely to resolve a conflict born out of Rwanda’s 1994 genocide and fuelled by proxy wars and the hunt for natural resources, analysts say.
On Oct. 29, 2006, millions voted patiently in an election that gave President Joseph Kabila a mandate to rule, enticed billions of dollars in mining, infrastructure and oil investments and, many hoped, offered Congo a fresh start.
For the people of eastern Congo, that is still a dream.
On the surface, this week’s fighting, which the United Nations says has created a "catastrophic" humanitarian crisis, was between government forces and the CNDP rebels of renegade Tutsi General Laurent Nkunda, who has led a four-year rebellion.
In reality, analysts say it is about proxy power struggles and shows that even the successful polls have done little to resolve the deep problems of eastern Congo and the wider region.
"This crisis should be the occasion to redefine the international commitment to the Congo so that there can be a more effective effort to address the causes of the conflict," said Eric Joyce, chairman of Britain’s All Parliamentary Group on the Great Lakes.
"If we leave the fundamental problems to fester under the surface, all our other efforts will be built on sand."
ROOTED IN GENOCIDE
Eastern Congo’s conflict is rooted in the genocide of 1994, when 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed. Routed by Tutsi rebel leader Paul Kagame, now Rwanda’s president, the Hutu perpetrators fled to Congo’s east, where they roam to this day.
Rwanda invaded in pursuit of Hutu militiamen, triggering the overthrow of Congo’s then-dictator Mobutu Sese Seko and then the 1998-2003 war, which spawned numerous armed groups and sucked in the armies of six African countries.
Over 5 million people have died as a result.
Despite billions of dollars spent on the world’s largest peacekeeping mission -- some 17,000 men stretched across a nation the size of Western Europe -- and hundreds of millions on the 2006 polls, the violence continues.
With the foreign armies out, analysts say the North Kivu conflict has become a war of proxies that has displaced 1 million civilians since the elections.
Congo stands accused of using the Hutu rebels, known as the FDLR, some of whom took part in the genocide, in their ranks.
Rwanda, meanwhile, is accused of allowing Nkunda’s men to recruit in Rwanda and use its territory during operations.
Both nations deny backing the other’s rebels but, after reports of heavy weapons being fired on Wednesday across their shared border and Congo’s request for help from Angola, an ally in the last war, fears of a renewed regional conflict are high.
"International leaders who successfully intervened before should act quickly to prevent the crisis in North Kivu from reaching catastrophic proportions," said Anneke Van Woudenberg, senior Congo researcher at Human Rights Watch.
American, European and African diplomats helped negotiate a deal in January this year between Kinshasa and 22 armed groups, including Nkunda’s rebels. But, after some hope, it collapsed.
Amnesty International has called for pressure on all sides before fighting degenerates to the levels of the previous war.
MISTRUST AND FEAR
In Brussels, European nations are debating the unlikely prospect of deploying hundreds of EU troops. At the United Nations, Security Council heavyweights are bickering over how strongly to criticise their respective African allies.
On the ground, however, the crisis remains mired in the realities of the fear and mistrust of Africa’s Great Lakes.
Rwanda has dispatched its foreign minister to Congo, but one Western diplomat said Kagame is "not keen" on the idea of a summit with Congo’s Kabila as "they have met before and nothing has come of it". The two have signed numerous previous accords.
Kigali regularly calls for proof it helps Nkunda. But this is hard to come by.
"It is a very, very tiny, easy border to cross and supplies can go back and forth rather easily," said Jendayi Frazer, the senior U.S. diplomat for Africa, after she said rebels used Rwandan soil for operations.
Meanwhile, Congo and its donors have failed to convert a plethora of rebel and government factions into a national army.
Units remain weak and rather than protect civilians, soldiers are better known for abuses, looting and profiting from the mineral trade than fighting.
While retreating this week, they even turned their guns on U.N. peacekeepers, wounding two.
"We need to end the pretence that this is a credible army. It is nonsense," said Francois Grignon, Africa director of the International Crisis Group. (Editing by Alistair Thomson and Angus MacSwan)