A top aide of President Paul Kagame has said that the country will always welcome anybody who decides to end war and return home voluntarily.
Ambassador Richard Sezibera, the President’s Special Envoy to the Great Lakes region, was speaking to The New Times yesterday in response to earlier reports that a faction of the DR Congo-based FDLR rebels had agreed to lay down their arms and be repatriated.
Rally for Unity and Democracy (RUD) - Urunana, is a small breakaway faction of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) rebels.
"We agree to disarm our combatants on Congolese soil to give peace a chance and to avoid the planned phase of military operations," Reuters quoted a man identified only as Jean-Michel said at a Kisangani ceremony on behalf of RUD.
But the larger FDLR group, with its political leadership based in Europe, is adamant to denounce the war and embark on a peaceful repatriation in violation of their own pledge under a deal brokered by Italy’s Community of Sant’Egidio on March 31, 2005.
RUD’s strength is estimated at 300 fighters, a very small fraction of the between 6,000-10,000 FDLR combatants still holed up in eastern DRC fourteen years after crossing to the vast neighbour.
"We will welcome them (RUD faction) when they come, and we continue to call on the main group (FDLR) to disarm and return home," Sezibera added.
In an apparent hint that Kigali is aware of the various FDLR tricks, Sezibera said: "The English have a saying that ‘the proof of the pudding is in the eating’."
Asked whether Rwanda believes that the ongoing international pressure on FDLR to disarm was paying dividends, Sezibera said: "We shall wait. Pressure itself is good, but its good only when there are positive results on the ground. They (FDLR) should disarm and repatriate or be disarmed and repatriated."
The international community has for some months now been exerting pressure on the Rwandan rebels to voluntarily disarm and repatriate in an effort to honour its part of the bargain under the November 9, 2007 pact with Rwanda in Nairobi, Kenya.
In March, the Security Council backed the so-called ‘Nairobi Communiqué’ by announcing that it expand sanctions to more FDLR leaders, and urged nations to ban the rebels’ activities on their territories.
However, observers are doubtful whether Kinshasa has both enough political will and the capacity to disarm and expel the fighters, most of whom are accused of participating in the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda which claimed an estimated one million people.
"I don’t think Congo has the capacity to force them to disarm, and if they do, I doubt they have the political will to do it. Similarly, I don’t think MONUC (UN Mission in Congo) has both the capacity and the will to make it happen either," Prof. Peter Ruzirabwoba Rwanyindo, the director of Institute of Research and Dialogue, said yesterday.
But Rwanyindo, who is also a lecturer at the National University of Rwanda (NUR) observed that the problem could have been addressed a long time ago had the UN mobilized its members to deal with it.
"They can still solve this issue if they wanted," he observed, adding that there is need for both Congolese military and Monuc to jointly facilitate the fighters willing to return home but are held hostage by hardliners.
"Those willing to be repatriated should be assisted after which the extremists should be forced to disarm," he added. Meanwhile, Sezibera hopes that the return of FDLR’s Col. Faustin Sebuhura alias Minani Marius, last Wednesday and the generosity he has since received from the government sends a signal to other die-hards in the Congo jungles that repatriation is the best way to go.
Sebuhura surrendered to Monuc after his health deteriorated before MONUC brought him back to Rwanda in an ambulance.
He is now admitted at the Kigali’s King Faysal Hospital, the country’s best hospital.
"Whatever the reasons for his return, he is welcome," Sezibera said.
Sebuhura, a top Genocide suspect whose file was transferred to Rwanda from the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), was until his return an advisor to FDLR second vice president, Brig. Gen. Gaston Iyamuremye.
He was also said to be the coordinator of FDLR training programmes.
Meanwhile, the US - one of the observers of the Nairobi Communiqué alongside the EU, AU and South Africa - yet again urged FDLR to disarm immediately.
US State Department spokesman Sean Mccormack said in a statement: "The time is now for the Rwandan armed groups in eastern Congo to disarm and repatriate or face consequences of further isolation and condemnation."