When the news came out that the DRC Armed Forces (FARDC) and the Rwandan Defense Forces (RDF) were, jointly, involved in a military operation to force Ex-FAR/Interahamwe/FDLR to disarm and repatriate back home, many in the public expressed astonishment if not disbelief.
They would say how bewildered they were to hear that the two countries that were at the brink of war had joined their forces to address what they now correctly perceive as a common threat to their peoples’ peace and security.
However, for a regular observer of events in the Great Lakes region, one could foresee this happening sooner or later because, if not compelled to by the multiple agreements signed since the late 90s at least by the mere fact that the affected people would at last see no other alternative than taking the bull by the horns and design their own means to put an end to these trouble makers-the Ex-FAR/INTERAHAMWE.
And indeed, the current joint military operations are a result of an ultimate agreement reached between DRC and Rwanda in early December 2008, after a series of various initiatives which had, for the great disappointment of peace lovers, failed to produce any tangible results.
Just to remind the public how long this issue has been at the heart of preoccupations; let us mention a few of those initiatives.
The 1999 Lusaka Agreement already gave to the United Nations peace enforcement body MONUC the mandate of: “Tracking down and disarming Armed Groups; Screening mass killers, perpetrators of crimes against humanity and other war criminals; Handing over ‘”genocidaires” to the International Crimes Tribunal for Rwanda; Repatriation; Working out such measures (persuasive or coercive) as are appropriate for the attainment of the objectives of disarming, assembling, repatriation and reintegration into society of members of the Armed Groups.”
The Agreement stressed otherwise that “the Parties (signatory) together with the UN and other countries with security concerns, shall create conditions conducive to the attainment of the objective set out above, which conditions may include the granting of amnesty and political asylum, except for genocidaires. The Parties shall also encourage inter-community dialogue…”
In 2002, a similar Agreement was signed in Pretoria but like the previous one, it led to no positive results.
Again in 2004, a new initiative called “Tripartite Plus Mechanism” involving DRC, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi, the core countries having security concerns over armed groups hiding in the DRC forests, was designed to find solutions to their respective negative forces.
This initiative was established to achieve concerted efforts against negative armed groups destabilizing the Great Lakes region.
Since 2004, members of the Tripartite Joint Commission in rotation held meetings in different capitals of the region to try to end the threat of negative forces.
One of the major achievements of the tripartite plus mechanism was the creation of an intelligence fusion cell in February 2005.
The Memorandum of Understanding establishing the intelligence fusion cell provided that this entity would gather and treat information on negative armed groups into a usable product that shall be disseminated to a Sub-Commission on defence and security for further action.
Thus, as of May 2007, the Tripartite Plus Fusion gathered updates on the major negative armed groups operating in Eastern DRC.
Orders of battle of each negative armed group were worked on and operation proposals against them were also proposed. However, despite such a strong commitment, and even more initiatives, whether from African Union Commission (Libreville resolution) or the United Nations Security Council (resolution 1804), the November 2007 Communiqué, etc., things remained the same, the terrorist groups continued their business as usual as if everybody had resigned to confront them.
Following a series of revived bilateral meetings between Rwandan and Congolese officials since late October 2008, this time bilaterally, they at last came to a common conclusion that the Ex-FAR/Interahamwe/FDLR are a threat not only to Rwanda but also to the DRC and the region, and agreed to use all possible means to uproot them.
The DRC authorities confirmed their commitment and willingness to deal with the threat once and for all by signing together with Rwanda a joint military plan to disarm and repatriate the Ex-FAR/Interahamwe/FDLR back home.
In the process, the FARDC led operations against the Ex-FAR/Interahamwe/FDLR supported by RDF Intelligence units have also created a conducive environment and combined efforts by DRC and Rwanda in tackling the internal civil war with especially CNDP, whose main claim among others was to fight the same FDLR.
As a matter of fact, as a result of DRC-Rwanda bilateral engagements, a deal was reached under which CNDP agreed to stop fighting and integrate into the national army and the CNDP’s other issues of concern would be handled by the government. Immediately after CNDP ended hostilities, a Mai Mai militia group, PARECO-FAP, also declared that it was ending hostilities against CNDP and submitted its combatants under FARDC Command.
Most opportune, the two groups requested the DRC Government to implement the 9th Nairobi Joint communiqué aimed at disarming the Ex-FAR/Interahamwe/FDLR in order to ensure a return of Congolese refugees.
The internal warring parties have now joined the FARDC and RDF joint operations in fighting a common enemy. This has created a window of opportunity to restore peace and security in eastern DRC, Rwanda and the whole Great Lakes Region that needs to be supported.
It is thus encouraging that the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region acknowledges and commends the already positive outcome of these joint operations.
As a matter of fact, in its January 31st final communiqué of the 2nd extraordinary summit of the ICGLR Heads of State and Government on the security situation in the DRC in Addis Ababa among others welcomed with satisfaction the cessation of hostilities in eastern DRC and bilateral engagements between the Government of the DRC and Rwanda that led to joint military operations of the FARDC and RDF, which has so far achieved significant progress in uprooting the Ex-FAR Interahamwe as the single largest cause of insecurity in eastern DRC, Rwanda and the region.
Yes, this was quite a long time of waiting by the populace of these neighbouring countries, but let us believe that our patience and the suffering of so many will be paid with the most gratifying of gifts this year, peace and security in our beautiful region and a quick return to friendly relationships between our two sister countries.
Bravo to the respective leaderships and indeed better late than never, there is now light at the end of the tunnel!