FDLR a ‘weakened militia’
Musanze–Internal divisions within the top command of Forces Democratiques de Liberation du Rwanda (FDLR) have left the rebel group in disarray forcing hundreds of fighters to lay down weapons, former rebels who defected recently said.
Speaking during a discharge ceremony at Mutobo Demobilisation Centre in Musanze District, the former rebels said that top FDLR commanders have fallen out, while junior soldiers no longer trust the top command.
It’s a question of time, a very short time, and they will all surrender except those held back by the guilt of the (1994) Genocide
“There is no more recruitment because everybody is trying to find a way of surviving, every commander has a different view of the cause of war,” said Lt. Col Idrisa Bizimana, a former battalion commander in FDLR.
“It’s a question of time, a very short time, and they will all surrender except those held back by the guilt of the (1994) Genocide.”
During the ceremony, 417 ex-combatants among them 18 officers, a one lieutenant colonel, four majors, nine captains, and 13 lieutenants, who had completed a three month rehabilitation and reintegration training programme, were discharged and given certificates.
Maj. Ildephonse Nkizinkiko, a former reserve force commander in Sud Kivu Province of the Democratic Republic of Congo, said that FDLR had lost ground because of lack of vision, and lies by top commanders over the objectives of their war.
“FDLR is now engaged in internal fighting. It is fighting with the local population on one hand, and fighting with Mayi Mayi (another rebel outfit in DRC) on the other. We can’t continue to live in darkness. All people have realised there is peace in Rwanda,” Nkizinkiko pointed out.
FDLR, which mainly operates in eastern DRC, is composed of elements responsible for the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
Its weakening has been attributed to a direct result of concerted regional efforts to end the rebel menance.
In 2009, there were Joint Military Operations conducted by Congolese soldiers (FARDC) and Rwanda defence Forces (RDF) which dealt a severe blow to the terrorist organisation. Later many top rebel officers kept defecting and returned to Rwanda while others died. For instance, the FDLR Chief of Staff, Gen. Leodomir Mugaragu, was killed along with over 20 of his commanders.
In September 2011, the FDLR was estimated to be 2,500 by MONUSCO, (UN Mission in DRC), down from 6,500 in 2008.
At the Disarmament, Demobilisation, Repatriation, Reintegration and Resettlement (DDRRR) camp in the eastern city of Goma, Mathew Brubacher, political affairs officer and a former investigator for the International Criminal Court, last year, told IRIN they were in contact with many of the officers in the field by cell or satellite phone.
“… You have to really understand the group in order to exploit its weaknesses,” he said.
In 2008, DDRRR processed an average of 50 FDLR combatants a month but “things really kicked off after the launch of joint operations [of Rwandan forces with the DRC army, FARDC] in 2009”, resulting in a nearly three-fold increase in defections, he said.
“Now we are extracting nearly 150 FDLR combatants a month, plus a lot more officers,” Brubacher said in September.
The joint operations against traditional strongholds of the FDLR forced them out of their “comfort zones,” putting the armed group on the move and making an already hard life in the bush harder.
Many defected rebels have reported morale had slumped, following the joint operations.
The arrest in Germany of the FDLR president, Ignace Murwanashyaka, on November17, 2009 on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity further undermined the organisation’s fighting spirit.
Between 2002 and July 2011, nearly 15,000 foreign ex-combatants, in Congo, including hundreds of child soldiers, were repatriated to Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda, as well as more than 10,000 dependants of former combatants, according to DDRRR records.
At the Tuesday ceremony, the State Minister in charge of social affairs, Dr Alvera Mukabaramba, urged the ex-combatants to join other Rwandans in the task of nation building.
“You’re joining yet another battle of fighting poverty. The past is the past. Rwanda has changed over the last 18 years. We are, however, ready to support and give you orientation to develop (yourselves),”’ Dr Mukabaramba noted.
The chairman of the Rwanda Demobilisation and Reintegration Commission, Jean Sayinzoga, said that the agency would help the ex-rebels to trace their families still holed up in DRC.
Present at the discharge ceremony were diplomats from the UK, the US, Belgium, the Netherlands, France, and MUNUSCO.
Contact email: bonny.mukombozi[at]newtimes.co.rw