Tuesday, 11 March 2014

DR-CONGO: The Potential Threat of Weakened FDLR

The once mighty rebel group FDLR, built from the former Rwandan Interahamwe who committed the genocide in 1994, has considerably weakened recently. Politically, the leadership is under pressure, as high cadres Ignace Murwanashyaka and Straton Musoni stand trial for war crimes in Germany. (Callixte Mbarushimana, another high-level FDLR commander, has been acquitted of International Criminal Court charges).

In military terms, the armed branch of the FDLR, called FOCA, suffered continuous losses after joint operations by the Congolese and Rwandan national armies, as well as from confronting self-defense militias in eastern Congo, such as the Raia Mutomboki. Under its commander-in-chief, ICC indictee Sylvestre Mudacumura, FOCA is still organized through a northern command, led by Pacifique Ntawunguka and based in northern parts of North Kivu’s Masisi territory, and a southern command, led by Hamada Habimana and based in South Kivu’s southern Mwenga territory.

Keeping the momentum after partially dismantling M23 movement, the MONUSCO ( U.N. Mission for Stabilization in DRC) and the Congolese Army are planning Joint operations to further weaken Rwandan Hutu rebels of FDLR( Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda).''We are in the context of operations with FARDC(Armed Forced DRC) of launching operations against FDLR'' said the MONUSCO spokesman Félix Prosper Base.

If, according to MONUSCO, the operations have not yet started, its consequences are already visible on the ground.On the night of Sunday to Monday, FARDC dismantled FDLR's camps in Luofu and Tongo (60 km north of Goma).

While the FDLR maintains its radical ethnic ideology and its highly organized military structure, troop numbers have fallen from more than 10,000 to—according to most credible estimates—around 2,500 combatants. Beyond arrests, some top commanders have been killed in action.

In addition, two major FDLR splinter groups stir trouble in eastern Congo: FDLR-RUD, with a few hundred fighters, and FDLR-Soki, with even fewer combatants. In terms of military threat, the FDLR and its splinters seem unable to do more than launch terrorist-style mortar attacks into Rwandan territory these days, but their potential to harm Congolese communities remains very high.

As the successor of Interahamwe and Hutu power groups, the FDLR has always been a major opponent of armed groups led by Congolese Tutsi with ties to the current Rwandan government. The FDLR’s combination of radical ideology and stringent military organization, even in the group’s current weakened state, is a potential threat, even more to Congolese Tutsi communities than to Rwanda itself.

Given the current U.N. Security Council resolution demanding the disarmament of nonstate armed groups in DRC, it is paramount that the Rwandan government offers some political process with FDLR that would require its disarmament.

Recently, Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete—who has deployed troops for the U.N. intervention brigade currently fighting armed rebels groups in eastern DRC—urged Rwandan President Paul Kagame to engage in a political process with the FDLR. With memories of the genocide still fresh after 20 years, Kagame sharply refused.

To definitively resolve the FDLR issue, the Congolese government and army must first credibly stop any collaboration with the FDLR once and for all. A tripartite agreement among the DRC, Rwanda and the FDLR—perhaps supervised by the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region or the African Union—will then be necessary to create a cross-border program to disarm and demobilize the combatants, take care of their dependents and render integrating into Congolese society or resettling in Rwanda more lucrative than continuing the war.

The main stumbling block has been a lack of DRC-Rwanda cooperation, and the Rwandan government’s limiting of political freedom even as FDLR commanders indoctrinate their people by telling them they would be killed if they returned to Rwanda.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist
African Affairs Expert

Photo-Credit: AFP- Young FDLR soldier in the jungle of North Kivu in Dr-Congo-Photo