With four days to January 2, the deadline given to the FDLR to have disarmed and renounced rebellion, the militia group seems far from obliging.
The group, which is largely made up of perpetrators of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, was given six months to surrender voluntarily or face military action following a meeting in July by leaders of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) and the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC).
The decision, which was endorsed by the Heads of State, was backed by the UN Security Council and African Union Peace and Security Council, all terming it as a way to bring to an end to the threat posed by continued presence of FDLR militiamen in the eastern swathes of DR Congo where they fled to in 1994.
The UN Organisation Stabilisation Mission in DR Congo (Monusco) was mandated to carry out the disarmament of the group in partnership with the Congolese army beginning January 2, should the militia not respect the deadline.
In an exclusive interview, last week, the Head of the European Union Delegation to Rwanda, Amb. Michael Ryan, said Europe is in full support of the disarmament as the “militia’s ideology is abhorrent.”
“It is up to the dully designated international force, Monusco, which has the mandate to take military measures to bring an end to the FDLR, which is the position we encourage,” Ryan said.
He described the militia group as a negative force with abhorrent ideologies that posed a threat to the country and to the region and hence should cease to exist.
“It is the reason we are supporting the move,” the envoy said.
Admitting he was unaware of what would happen upon the lapse of the January 2 deadline, Ryan said the role of Monusco should come into play.
“We are all waiting to see what happens on the second of January being a date set by the ICGLR with our support. It was reasonable that they be given a chance six months ago,” he said.
The EU Mission chief added that the nature of relations between DR Congo’s government and the United Nations was not making things any easier in the efforts to neutralise the group, urging them to work together.
“It is complicated because the UN and Kinshasa are not always on the same page, a lot of pressure has been put on them to work with Monusco if they are to bring to an end the militia,” the envoy noted.
Analysts, including Enough Project, a non-governmental organisation, have maintained that Kinshasa, which should play a critical role in a military offensive against the FDLR, has been hesitant due to the economic and political ties between them and the militia group.
A recent report by Enough Project claimed that the militia is reportedly regrouping, and mobilising political support instead of disarming as it had promised.
Based on six months of field research, the report revealed that the militia group continues to generate revenue mainly by trading gold through North Kivu and Uganda and by illegally producing and trading charcoal from Virunga National Park, worth an estimated $32 million per year.
Genocide scholar Tom Ndahiro said it was understandable that most people were sceptical about the militia’s disarmament considering that the deadline given to the group had often been extended.
Ndahiro said Monusco had existed alongside the group for long watching it metamorphosis without attempting to neutralise it.
“They [Monusco] have not shown any signs in the past of being part of a solution, if anything; they have contributed to the rise of the problem,” he said.
Ndahiro said FDLR’s disarmament chances would be higher under the mandate of a new authority that has not exhibited reluctance to the group’s elimination as Monusco had.
Regarding the groups voluntary surrender, the scholar said that chances were very narrow considering the ample time extended to them.
In the event of inaction by Monusco, security and political experts have said that the Eastern Africa Standby Force (EASF), comprised of 10 regional countries would be well placed to neutralise the militia forces.
Earlier last week, in her end of year address, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Louise Mushikiwabo, expressed the government’s skepticism about the genuineness of the six-month deadline given to the FDLR militia to voluntarily disarm or face military action.
The minister said they knew all along that nothing would happen due to the lack of commitment by some of the involved parties.
A 3000-strong force, Force Intervention Brigade, an offensive wing of the 23,000-strong Monusco peacekeepers, was last year deployed alongside the Congolese forces against the M23 rebels, subsequently defeating them in November 2013. However, there have been concerns that some of the countries with troops in the Brigade are reluctant to take on the FDLR militia as required, with some troop contributors thought to be FDLR sympathisers. Tanzania, South Africa and Malawi contributed the troops the make up the Brigade, which has, in the recent past, reportedly been trying to neutralise Ugandan ADF rebels – also holed up in eastern DR Congo.