• Fresh attacks displace thousands
Suspected elements of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) Monday night reportedly shelled the Rwandan territory from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), it has emerged.
This comes barely a month after the Rwanda-DRC joint military operations (Umoja Wetu” (Our unity), aimed at routing the FDLR out of the DRC concluded mid-February.
“Yes this is true, two bombs landed but no one was killed because they landed in the bushes,” Rwandan army spokesman Maj. Jill Rutaremara confirmed on phone when contacted yesterday.
Despite the goodwill demonstrated by the DRC government, this revelation comes following a recent report by the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) that attacks by the notorious rebel FDLR displaced nearly 30,000 Congolese civilians in the past two weeks.
FDLR is an outfit largely composed of perpetrators of the 1994 Genocide against Tutsis.
DRC army (FARDC) Spokesman in the east Capt. Olivier Hamuli later also confirmed the cross-border bombardment but insisted that they were still verifying.
“That is true but we need to confirm exactly by whom these shells were fired. We are going to submit a report later,” Hamuli said when contacted by telephone from Goma.
He also insisted that a previously announced MONUC-supported FARDC operation against the FDLR in South Kivu province is still going on.
Hamuli admitted that Congolese are suffering from rebel reprisals because the former betrayed the rebels during “Umoja Wetu”.
“We are doing both operations (North and South Kivu provinces) together,” he noted, acknowledging that it was a challenge given that the gains in North Kivu haven’t been well sustained.
“Yes it is the problem but we will do the work at the same time.”
The UNHCR indicates that the FDLR which was the target of joint military operations from January to mid February, has been retaliating against civilians and attacking villages in North Kivu ever since the Rwandan forces left DRC.
Despite Umoja Wetu’s many achievements; massive repatriations of FDLR fighters and dependents, destruction of many FDLR strongholds, as well as robustly improving relations between the two countries, the ‘genocidal force’ has re-occupied some of its former strongholds and continued to regroup. This has been followed by reprisals against Congolese.
When contacted about the recent developments, MONUC chief military spokesman Lt. Col. Jean-Paul Dietrich stressed that even though the rebels have mounted attacks, “they have no capacity for larger military operations.”
Dietrich also could not confirm that FDLR had shelled on Rwandan territory.
“There is no confirmation to that at all…one of our aims was to secure the border between Rwanda and DRC and that has been achieved.”
He said that FDLR was located far from the border and it was “not possible to fire missiles to Rwanda. They are far from the border”
He insisted that the rebels were only trying to re-occupy mineral-rich areas like Pinga, Kashebere and to invade villages and steal food.
“The situation is completely different now compared to before the joint operations. People are leaving in masses and the situation is volatile, absolutely true, but we are working with the FARDC to stabilize the situation.”
“What is more of a concern is their (FDLR) continued menacing of the population directly. For example, in the area of Lubero, last week, they burnt more than seventy houses.”
Responding to what is seen as a weak attempt to conduct operations in the south and the impending insecurity in the North, Dietrich acknowledged that the rebels’ come back was still a problem.
“Yes the North Kivu situation is still very delicate and FDLR have retaken some of their earlier territories of North Kivu and are taxing, killing and looting.”
“That is worrisome but within a certain time frame something is achievable and we are working on it together,” said the MONUC spokesperson.