MONUSCO, The United Nations peacekeeping force in the neighbouring DRC, is committed to disarming the militia blamed for the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, a top US diplomat at the United Nations has said.
Samantha Power, the US Permanent Representative to the UN, said Monusco leaders had assured a visiting delegation of United Nations Security Council that the force, shored up by a newly deployed battalion with a more robust mandate, would fight the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) militants.
“They made it clear they have every intention to deal with the FDLR in support of the forces from the DRC,” Power told reporters in Kigali after the Security Council delegation held talks with President Paul Kagame at Village Urugwiro.
Power, who alongside the Azerbaijan envoy to the UN, Agshin Mehdiyev, are leading the delegation on a regional tour of four countries, said the FDLR had “wreaked terrible havoc on civilians in eastern Congo”, pointing out that “some of them people who are part of the FDLR are people who are responsible for one of the worst crimes of the last century here in Rwanda.”
More than a million Rwandans were butchered during the 100 days of the Genocide that only ended when the forces loyal to the now ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) took Kigali, prompting the genocide machinery to flee into the Congo, practically taking with them hundreds of thousands of civilians.
Almost all the civilians and thousands of militants have since voluntarily returned home, but extremists have set up bases in the Congo where they have reportedly benefited from Kinshasa over the years.
Amb. Power said the FDLR and other armed groups in eastern DRC need to be eliminated to allow the people in the Great Lakes region a chance to rebuild their lives toward a bright future.
FDLR overall commander Sylvester Mudacumura is among the top FDLR leaders who were slapped with travel and financial bans, and both the group’s president Ignace Murawanashyaka and vice president Straton Musoni are on trial in Stuttgart, Germany, in connection with the genocidal militia’s activities.
“I think we have verbal commitments that you need, you’ve the international community strongly behind the Addis Ababa and Kampala frameworks, which is a very good beginning,” said the former journalist.
She was referring to the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Congo and the region signed by 11 regional states in Ethiopia in February, 2013, and the ongoing peace talks between the Congolese government and the M23 rebels in Uganda.
But she warned, “We have seen this movie before, there have been other hopeful times and what will determine whether or not this period is different is whether this time, in fact, the armed groups are demobilised.”
Amb. Mehdiyev of Azerbaijan, which holds the rotating chair of the Security Council for the month of October, said their mission was not undertaken to point fingers at anyone, but rather to support the ongoing efforts to return peace to the troubled region.
Speaking earlier, yesterday, during the diplomats’ visit to the Rwanda Demobilisation and Rehabilitation Centre in Mutobo, Musanze District, where they heard testimonies from ex-combatants, Amb. Power commended Rwanda’s efforts to reintegrate former FDLR militants, whom she said looked relieved that they were finally home because they had been held captive by the group’s leaders.
The delegation also visited the Kigali Genocide memorial where Power nearly broke down in tears after touring the site and paid a glowing tribute to the people of Rwanda for “opening up” to the rest of the world despite the tragedy the befell them nearly 20 years ago.
“It is almost 20 years after the Genocide and the power of not only what happened here in 1994, but the strength of the Rwandan people as they seek to move forward is immensely moving to me and to my colleagues,” she said.
“Of course we all know what the United Nations failed to do back in 1994 for the Rwandan people, but the international community is determined to stand with the Rwandan people, in the same way that our guides today have, they were themselves 13 year-old boys at the time of the Genocide…. and they tell their stories so that diplomats like me, journalists, citizens, churchgoers, everyone in the world can know what happened here so that it never happens again in Rwanda and it never happens anywhere else in the World,” she added.
The top American UN diplomat added, “And so we just want to express our thanks to the people of Rwanda for opening their hearts, sharing their photos, their stories of their family members.
Remains of about 250,000 victims of the Genocide are buried at the memorial.
Issue of child soldiers
Meanwhile, speaking to journalists at Village Urugwiro following the visiting Security Council members’ with the President, Foreign minister Louise Mushikiwabo reiterated that Kigali was not in any way involved with use of child soldiers in armed conflicts anywhere.
“Rwanda is not a country that just appeared yesterday, it’s a country that has a track record and our track record in terms of military is very clear; that’s that Rwanda does not tolerate children being in any way near armed groups,” she said. We have done a lot in this country to stay away from this kind of practice” she said.
Last Thursday, the US government announced it had suspended military aid to Rwanda, along four other countries around the world, over Kigali’s alleged support of the M23 rebels, who are accused of recruiting children in their ranks.
But Mushikiwabo said had this allegation been “properly investigated”, it would not have been difficult to find out that “it’s not in Rwanda’s practices to keep children near weapons”. “The issue of child soldiers and so forth is a consequence of the existence of these (armed) groups….and I believe that once these armed groups are no more, there will no longer be the issue of child soldiers.”
The M23 rebellion broke out in April last year after officers linked to an earlier rebellion mutinied accusing Kinshasa of breaking the deal under which they had been integrated into the national army.
Members of the UN Security Council arrived in Rwanda from Kinshasa and Goma – the capital of the troubled North Kivu province which is home to a myriad of militia groups, including the FDLR – where they met with senior government officials and visited Internally Displaced Persons.
From Kigali, the delegation headed to Entebbe, Uganda before concluding the regional tour with a trip to Addis Ababa.
Before arriving in the region over the weekend, the UN diplomats had a stop in Brussels in Belgium where they met with members the Political and Security Committee of the European Union over the Congo crisis.
Rwanda is serving its first year on the Security Council and the country’s permanent representative to the UN, Amb. Eugène-Richard Gasana, was among the visiting diplomats.