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Eastern Congo on the Brink

Six months ago, the Democratic Republic of Congo signed a $9 billion agreement with China to provide Beijing with copper and cobalt in exchange for thousands of miles of roads and railways (BBC). Optimists saw the deal as a sign that the Congolese government--voted to power in a historic 2006 election--was trying to turn its mineral wealth into an engine of economic development. Pessimists pointed to the ongoing lawlessness in the eastern provinces of North and South Kivu, fueled by illegal mineral extraction, as a sign of the government's weakness outside the capital of Kinshasa. Now, an escalation of violence in the east has raised concerns that the Congolese government could fall, with serious repercussions possible for countries throughout central Africa.

Despite the presence of the largest UN peacekeeping force in the world, known as MONUC, eastern Congo has been lawless for over a decade. Faced with rampaging rebel militias and the poorly trained Congolese army and police, hundreds of thousands of civilians have fled their homes. The UN agency for refugees reports that even its camps provide no guarantee of safety from militias. The best recent attempt at quelling violence, a peace agreement signed in January 2008, failed to prevent the latest round of fighting and is widely considered moribund. Numerous attempts to negotiate with the region's most prominent rebel leader, Laurent Nkunda, have faltered. In a podcast with, Rebecca Feeley, a field researcher with an advocacy group called the ENOUGH Project, says Nkunda has political aspirations. Some analysts believe his rebel group, CNDP, widely believed to be backed by Rwanda's government, has a shot at toppling (NYT) the government of President Joseph Kabila.

Diplomats including UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Jendayi...

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