Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Suddenly, Africa's Conflicts Aren't So Local WARS IN SUDAN, ZAIRE

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Suddenly, Africa's Conflicts Aren't So Local WARS IN SUDAN, ZAIRE

Article excerpt

Like a tornado sucking in everything in its path, the battle for eastern Zaire is involving more and more countries, opening a chapter of heightened internationalization of African wars.

A new pattern of cross-border meddling, also present in Sudan's civil war next door, seems to be replacing the old days when colonial powers or superpowers stepped in when they felt their proxies were in trouble.

But while lacking the superpower dimensions of the cold war, when the United States and Soviet Union played out their rivalry in Ethiopia and Angola, this new cycle of neighborly meddling is a dangerous trend for a region destabilized by poverty and growing ethnic strife. "It is like adding more ingredients to a bubbling pot," says Bill Sass, a military analyst with the Institute of Defense Policy in Johannesburg. "As soon as a conflict like this happens, it impacts on the countries around it. The conflict in Central Africa is no longer just Rwanda's problem, it's become Zaire's and Uganda's. Basically this is an unstable area, {and} these conflicts become more difficult to resolve as more states get involved." Some analysts believe France, which recently intervened in the Central African Republic, and the US are playing more than a back-stage role in Sudan and Zaire. But for the most part, the scenario unfolding is of regional crises spinning very much out of any government's control. In Sudan, it appears that Uganda, Eritrea, and Ethiopia are lending support to black insurgents in the south who have been fighting the northern Islamic regime in Khartoum for 13 years. As for eastern Zaire, fighting initially began in October when ethnic Tutsis were threatened with expulsion, partly due to ethnic tension exacerbated by the presence of Hutu refugees from Burundi and Rwanda. Some of these refugees took part in the 1994 Rwandan genocide of hundreds of thousands of Tutsis. The Zairean Tutsis were joined by antigovernment rebels, who are fighting to oust President Mobutu Sese Seko. There is increasing evidence that Ugandan and Rwandan troops have come to the rebels' aid, and that Mr. Mobutu's Army has enlisted mercenaries from France and Belgium. Earlier this week, Zaire claimed it had been promised troops from Chad, Morocco, and Togo and military equipment from Egypt. The statement, if true, is an echo of the 1970s, when Mobutu could summon Western support to put down provincial rebellions. Analysts say this new tendency to step into a conflict next door is encouraged by a ready supply of guns and deepening ethnic tensions that know no borders. The ethnic card is most evident in Central Africa, where artificial borders established during colonial times are unraveling in Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Zaire, and Tanzania. These political divides are more irrelevant than ever with the huge movements of refugees being pushed back and forth across frontiers. The cross-border conflicts are also taking the form of tit-for-tat tensions, with countries attacking each other for harboring the others' rebels. In Sudan, the Islamic regime accuses Ethiopia, Uganda, and Eritrea of helping its rebels. In return, the three blame Sudan for attacks on their soil. …

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