The FDLR: Anatomy of a conflict fueling group in the Great Lakes Region

Part III 2.3. Impact of the FDLR threat Social impact The social impact of the Ex-FAR Interahamwe in the region has been appalling. The Great Lakes Region has been particularly affected by the internal movement and exile of large populations.
Rwandan rebels in the Congo.
Rwandan rebels in the Congo.

Part III

2.3. Impact of the FDLR threat

Social impact

The social impact of the Ex-FAR Interahamwe in the region has been appalling. The Great Lakes Region has been particularly affected by the internal movement and exile of large populations.

The displaced populations often live in squalid conditions characterized by lack of personal security, fragile food security and an absence of basic health and education services.

In terms of measurable social indicators, the countries in the Great Lakes region fare somewhat worse than sub-Saharan Africa average, due to the social pressures resulting from this long conflict.

The forces of this group have been reported in raping of women and defilement of children in which they have infected a big number with HIV/AIDS, using child soldiers and looting people’s property among others.

Rape has always been used by Ex-FAR and Interahamwe as a tool to exterminate their opponents. Before and during the genocide, genocidal propaganda, as contained in the 10 commandments of the duo MRND-CDR, used rape as a weapon of mass destruction against Tutsi women. Many sources have estimated 250,000 women were raped during the 100-day genocide.

MONUC and other sources report that FDLR has been recruiting children and many of them take part in hostilities.
Economic impact.

During the two wars in Congo, investment and trade declined significantly, labor and markets were fragmented, subsistence agriculture was disrupted in large areas and the same is still happening in the eastern DRC, current base of the FDLR and raging conflict.

Physical infrastructure, transport, energy, telecommunications, public buildings and housing, have deteriorated significantly due to fighting and lack of maintenance associated with insecurity.

Government institutions are barely functioning in eastern DRC and the FDLR is in control of certain parts. As a result of conflicts, governments also face a collapse of the revenue base both through displacement and the disruption of economic activity and trade.

Resultant high military expenditures are thus a drainon the national budget and contribute to fiscal deficits. Entire regions in both Kivu are controlled by FDLR and Congolese citizens do not have access to the benefits of mineral resource available in these parts of the country. This undermines economic development ofthe Eastern DRC.

3. FDLR AND THE RISE OF OTHER CONGOLESE MILITIAS

Ex-FAR/Interahamwe/FDLR is still a characteristic feature of insecurity in the region. Its presence in the DRC gave rise to the formation of various rebel movements in eastern DRC ,notably; Nkunda’s Conseil National pour la Défence du Peuple (CNDP) in 2005, Mai Mai, Parti de la Résistance Congolaise-Forces Armées Patriotiques (PARECO-FAP) on 15 March 2007 and Front for the Liberation of North Kivu (FLNK) in early October 2007 (the group’s chief, Maj. Kasereka forcefully surrendered).

It is in the same light that the current escalation of conflict in North Kivu is attributed to the presence of the Ex-FAR/Interahamwe/FDLR and General Nkunda says he is protecting his people from continued persecution by these extremist genocidal forces.

After renegade General Laurent Nkunda agreed to mix his fighters with the national army, the FDLR being an anti-Tutsi group, received support from leaders of the main ethnic groups: the Wanande,the Watembo, Wahunde and Wanyange.

It is these groups and Rwandan Hutu extremists who formed the PARECO-FAP, which is led by a Rwandan rebel known as Col. Mugabo.

The original document of PARECOFAP gave the command structure as Col. Sikuli Kakule (Munande), Col. Ntasibaganga (a Muhunde), Col. Blaise (a Munyange) and Col. Kirikicho (a Tembo).

One of the objectives of PARECO-FAP is that the local population will support the Hutus against the Tutsi, hence signaling ethnic ideology as spread by Ex-FAR/FDLR. The group asked the population to reject the mixed brigade of Nkunda’s forces and the Congolese army.

Nkunda emerged as a result of this instability caused by the genocidal forces, to protect his Tutsi community, while the Mai Mai, PARECO-FAP and FNLK sided with the FDLR and FARDC to fight Nkunda and those they consider as Rwandans and Tutsi.

This “Tutsiphobia” also targeted the Banyamulenge community in South Kivu and Katanga provinces.

In early August 2007, several MONUC personnel were injured in violent demonstrations in the Lake Tanganyika port town of Moba in northern Katanga. Local people were protesting at the proposal of the UNHCR to repatriate refugees that had fled the town between 1996 and 2003 into Tanzania and Zambia.

On 1 October 2007, other violent demonstrations took place in the town of Moba following a tract calling for demonstrations against unconfirmed return of the Banyamulenge populations in that town.

The problems caused by the presence of the FDLR in the eastern DRC and the emergence of Nkunda are inextricably intertwined.

The FDLR has been targeting Tutsis in the region and this is the problem Nkunda is raising, but his government seems to be turning a deaf ear to his complaints.

The FDLR has been causing displacements of civilians and committing all sorts of human rights violations including rape, killing, looting, just to name but a few.

The FLDR, together with Burundian rebel FNL-PARIPEHUTU, killed 160 Banyamulenge refugees in August 2004 in Gatumba, Burundi, killed eight foreign tourists in Bwindi forest in Uganda, looted the villages of Bunagana in South Western Uganda on 8 August, 2007 and forced more than 45,000 Congolese identified as Tutsis into exile in Rwanda and many others in Burundi because their villages have been occupied by this negative force.

Innocent civilians in the Kivus have been caught in the crossfire of military operations because the opposing sides accuse them of siding with their enemy.

Besides, the prevailing climate of impunity allows all sides (Nkunda, the FDLR, the Congolese army, and local militias) to exploit the local population without fear of consequences.

The government of DRC is more concerned with their fellow national, Nkunda, rather than being more concerned about the presence of a foreign force, the FDLR that has been at the centre of a conflict with Rwanda in the last 13 years and that has caused immeasurable suffering to the Congolese people.

Contrary to what logic would have, the DRC has often allied with the FDLR, which it often uses to fight for it, with the resultant consequence of arming it to increase its threat against Rwanda. This breeds impunity and an escalation of their atrocities committed in the region including the DRC.

The DRC government claims that it would be politically costly to sell the idea of making concessions to Nkunda because of the local population’s antipathy to the Tutsi cause. Some Congolese authorities, including those from the east, are opposed to negotiations with Nkunda.

Forty deputies from the two Kivus expressed disagreement with the holding of the intercommunity meeting, proposed by Interior Minister Denis Kalume, and which had been scheduled to open on 27 May, 2007 with the objective of assessing the problem of insecurity in the eastern DRC.

They went further to suspend their activities in the National Assembly, saying they did not believe the meeting would efficiently put an end to the insecurity in the two provinces.

Though the DRC government may think the negotiated solution is politically costly because of anti-Tutsi elements in the government who would oppose the move, the sentiment could be offset by an overwhelming desire to see stability restored in North Kivu.

As remarked by Mauro De Lorenzo, President Kabila is too weak to rein in the extremist politicians who have long called for Congolese Banyarwanda (both Hutu and Tutsi) to be expelled from the country and who raised vociferous alarm earlier this year when the government was negotiating with Nkunda.

These hardliners have been urging a military solution on the President. The President appears to be a hostage of these hardliners who do not want any negotiations with Nkunda.

Kabila’s personal vulnerability on this issue is heightened by persistent rumors that he himself had a Tutsi mother—an allegation deployed against him by his opponent Jean-Pierre Bemba in the 2006 election.

Despite the fact that the FDLR is central to the current conflict in North Kivu Province, and that it continues to cause a humanitarian crisis, its disarmament seemed not to be a priority for the DRC government.

The government is instead concerned with Nkunda, whereas his own major concern is the presence of the Ex-FAR/Interahamwe/FDLR, and was asking the support of government forces to flush them out.

It is in this context that Ground forces Commander, General Gabriel Amisi Tango, referring to Nkunda’s forces, on 11 August 2007 told journalists in Goma that his government had suspended ‘Tutsiled’ military operations against the FDLR.

This was interpreted by Nkunda’s fighters as an unfriendly plan intended to disband them. It is this move that led to the latest conflict between Nkunda’s CNDP and government forces (FARDC).

By Gen Amisi’s declaration, the FARDC appeared to have no intention to disarm the FDLR; their priority was the neutralization of Nkunda and were not so much bothered by FDLR.

Lately some DRC officials prefer to recommend the repatriation of the FDLR by peaceful means, insinuating talks with the Rwandan government. Many reliable reports suggest that the FARDC have actually been collaborating with the FDLR to fight Nkunda’s CNDP.

In late September 2007, the BBC reported that it had evidence that the FARDC were supporting a loose FDLR-Mai Mai alliance in the fight against Nkunda and that MONUC was aware of this.

MONUC denied such a link but the allegations have proven explosive for a variety of reasons; First, they are not difficult to believe.

During the 1998-2002 war, the late president Kabila created an alliance with the Interahamwe – now known by the political title, the FDLR- which fought with the Congolese army against Rwandan and Ugandan backed rebels.

The Rwandan government also accused the DRC of arming the FDLR in the latest conflict in the eastern DRC.

DRC’s concern is Nkunda; FDLR is a second priority as expressed by the Minister of Defence in his brief on the security situation in the eastern DRC to the Senate on 28 June 2007.

For that purpose, the DRC government would address the issue of Nkunda before that of FDLR and even use FDLR to disarm him, since the FDLR are enemies of Nkunda and the latter is considered the enemy to the government, there is no reason why the DRC government would not benefit from the support of the FDLR against Nkunda Increased anti-Tutsi sentiments lead to strained relations between DRC and Rwanda.

Despite international calls and Rwanda’s efforts to normalize its relations with the DRC, the DRC government has not been forthcoming, which is an obstacle to the implementation of different initiatives to end the FDLR problem. On several occasions, DRC officials have instead been implicating Rwanda in the insecurity prevailing in the eastern DRC.

In a memorandum addressed to a visiting UN Security Council delegation in June 2007, DRC parliamentarians from South and North Kivus said Nkunda is apparently supported by Rwanda, and demanded the effective implementation of resolution 1596 (2005) related to arms embargo imposed on armed groups in DRC (UNSC resolution 1771 extended the arms embargo until 15 Feb. 2008).

To them, the FDLR issue is a political one, and they asked the UNSC to convince Rwanda to negotiate with the FDLR.

President Kabila and Speaker of Parliament Vital Kamerhe have been talking of “preliminaries” before Rwanda and DRC can resume diplomatic relations.

In an interview with the Jeune Afrique, President Kabila said, “it would be better to eliminate any suspicions before Embassies can open”.

On the question whether Nkunda is not supported by Rwanda, he said: “I hope not, but in the Great Lakes Region everything is possible.”

Vital Kamerhe too, in his proposed plan to secure South and North Kivu to the visiting UNSC delegation, talked of some preliminaries, adding that “opening the Embassy in Kigali while Laurent Nkunda continues to kill the population would badly be received by the national opinion.”

In Kamerhe’s proposal, he dwells on General Nkunda and portrays him as more of a problem than even the FDLR.

Tomorrow: International initiatives to end the FDLR threat.

 

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