GOMA – The Governor of North Kivu Province, Monday poured praise the now concluding joint DRC-Rwanda military offensive against FDLR elements, castigating those he accused of aiming at fuelling friction between the two sister countries.
Julien Kahongya Paluku said this in an exclusive interview with The New Times, yesterday at his lakeside offices in the provincial capital Goma in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC).
During the interview, the Governor stressed that things are very good ever since the armies of DRC and Rwanda started working together to hunt FDLR and destroy their bases in the eastern part of his country.
The FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda) is a group of Rwandan insurgents who masterminded the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi and have been operating in Congo for the last 15 years.
“We have been able to get many fruits and especially for the population in Masisi and Rutshuru who are very happy that our Presidents, Kabila and Kagame have both worked together to bring peace to North Kivu,” he pointed out.
FLDR is has been accused of committing gross atrocities against Congolese citizens during their stay in the vast central African state, that have included killings, rape and pillaging.
“The biggest FDLR headquarters which had been in the regions of Rutshuru, Nyamirima, Virunga National Park, Masisi as well as Kalonge, where Mudacumura (FLDR commander) lived have been obliterated and as of now, those who had been in refugee camps have started returning home,” he revealed.
Paluku underlined that the population supported the joint FARDC-RDF operations, noting that an unprecedented number of Rwandans had returned home.
“There are Rwandans about three to four thousand who have returned home and among them are FDLR combatants,” he said.
“The government of Congo had never attained such a number before!” Paluku noted, insisting that the current “success” was due to the joint military operations.
Queried about what is being done to douse worries by Congolese over possible FDLR reprisals after the Rwandan army’s pull out ahead of its deadline this week, Paluku was careful not to reveal much about the plans but stressed that the concerns have been noted and appropriate measures considered.
“But what you very well know is that presently there has been the integration of the army formerly called CNDP into the Congolese army,” he said, adding, “the joint operations were planned such that after the Rwandan army’s withdrawal, it will be the FARDC to now take up hunting for the remaining FDLR insurgents.”
Paluku also reiterated his firm call for the Congolese population to combine forces with FARDC in wiping out the remaining FDLR.
“Every one should assist the FARDC in looking for FDLR wherever they are hiding because if someone accommodates them in their house, they will suffer for no good reason,” he warned.
Meanwhile, the Governor reacted to recent allegations by Human Rights Watch (HRW) that Rwandan troops had killed civilians. He poured scorn over the allegations, insisting that no reports whatsoever were received implicating the joint forces in any crimes.
“The only crimes we have heard of are those committed by the FDLR who have been pushed into the forests and have killed people. Surely, as of now, the work that has been done by both the Rwandan and Congolese armies has been well done.”
“And we believe even the international community’s force which is present can attest to this,” he said, referring to MONUC the UN mission in DRC.
“Those who bring such news, saying that the Rwandan and Congolese army have done bad things, are just carrying out propaganda aimed at spoiling all the good that has been achieved by the two armies.”
Paluku insisted that “there are people who don’t want Rwanda and Congo to work together” simply because, as he put it, the latter know that “once we collaborate” - DRC, Rwanda, Burundi, and Uganda will bring about a very powerful unity for the Great Lakes Region.
“There are people who just don’t like this harmony being there! All they want is friction between Rwanda and Congo yet we are neighbours.”
“We cannot bring any other country to be our neighbour. We must have good relations between Rwanda and Congo so that we can develop the region and build one project benefiting the citizens of both sides,” Paluku underscored.
The current constructive impetus towards peace by the two countries has seen an unprecedented joint military operation return DRC’s east to a calm many never envisaged before.