The conflict in eastern DRC looks nothing like it did this time last week.
I was at the hotel in Goma when the breakaway leaders of the main Tutsi rebel group came to announce the end of the war. I listened to the leaders of a predominantly Hutu rebel group say they wanted to join the Congolese Government to fight their Hutu “brothers”.
Local people and Congo experts alike are shaking their heads in wide-eyed disbelief. But it’s true that this morning the famous leader of the CNDP, Nkunda, whose troops provoked a huge flare-up of violence and displacement at the end of last year was arrested by the new joint Rwanda-DRC operation.
If you are confused, so are most analysts, commentators and many of the displaced local population.
Today, talking to people who have been living in a displacement camp for two years after Nkunda’s rebels attacked their villages, most questioned if this week’s news really means peace for the area.
“How do I know if peace is here?” said a woman moulding clay pots in the middle of the camp. “I’m sitting here with you, how do I know? You want this stone to tell me if there is peace?
"How do you want us to believe there is peace after everything that has happened?” she asked. “We still remember everything.”
She is right – eastern Congo has suffered decades of war. It is always ordinary farmers and vulnerable people who are hit the hardest. Now the camp braces itself for more fighting as Congo and Rwanda prepare an offensive against the FDLR, a mainly Hutu group accused of taking part in the 1994 Rwanda genocide.
Hope for peace
I spoke to a ten-year-old boy who has never been to school. He attends the Child-Friendly Space in the camp, which is a safe place for children to play, learn and recover from the affects of war, set up by World Vision.
“Peace will come in Congo,” he said.
“We shall soon be on our own lands again. We are tired of living here.”
Another woman danced, jumped and exclaimed, “I am very happy, I could even fly like a bird. They have got him, I can return home. My God, I continue to celebrate. We have been praying for this and now we can return home.”
While there are sceptics and optimists, all wait to see if the promise of peace makes a difference on the ground.
An elderly man explained, “We heard the news on the radio but until now these are just stories, we want to see peace.”
While the future is uncertain, one thing is for sure, the people of Congo cannot be allowed to be hit by violence yet again. Tens of thousands of people continue to live in camps without the very basics and vulnerable to any fresh outbreaks of violence. They must be protected from the brutal cycle of war – there is no question about that.
Anna Ridout works for World Vision in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)