Major Jill Rutaremara is the Spokesman for the Rwanda Defence Forces (RDF). Elements of the RDF troops recently entered the Democratic Republic of Congo after a joint military plan which had been conceived through a Rwanda-DRC bilateral framework on security was endorsed by the two neigbouring countries.
This meant that the RDF will cooperate with the Congolese Armed Forces— FARDC to flush out the dreaded Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), in a concerted bid to bring about sustainable peace within eastern DRC.
In this interview The New Times sought from the Military Spokesman about the key pointers of this plan in the light of these new developments unfolding within the Great Lakes region of Africa.
Qn: The FDLR rebel group, the remnants of the authors and executors of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide against the Tutsi, have been labeled the region’s distinctive enemy for both Rwanda and DRC of which the joint military plan is determined to flush out from the jungles of eastern DRC. How are the plans unfolding so far?
Ans: The joint operation is going on very well as planned and the joint Force FARDC – RDF is registering tremendous successes.
Qn: What are some of the challenges or constraints encountered at the operational level in the joint offensive?
Ans: Like in all other operations there are some challenges and constraints in Operation ‘Umoja Wetu’. The Area of Operation is relatively big; there are logistical constraints; and the terrain is limiting in terms of employment of air power as well as armour.
In addition there are some civil society organisations and other groups and in particular some NGOs that have been spearheading a campaign that the Joint Operations is going to lead to a humanitarian catastrophe.
This I believe is aimed at undermining the operations and most importantly justifying the relevancy or existence of those organisations in both time and space. Good enough this has not made any impact on the operations.
Qn: The foreign press is awash with news that the FDLR is suffering heavily from the brunt of the joint offensive. Can you shed more light on these developments?
Ans: I am not going to dwell over the numbers of FDLR fighters who have been killed although a sizeable number has indeed been killed including the Second in Command of the FDLR Elite Reserve Brigade and the Brigade’s Head of Logistics, what we call S4 in military lingo.
Neither will I answer your question by dwelling on those who have either surrendered, been captured, or even the quantity of arms and ammunitions that have been seized in both Masisi and Ruchuro axes although these are important indicators indeed.
Soon we shall release the breakdown in terms of numbers killed, injured, surrendered or captured as well the arms and ammunitions seized for those who are interested. It is those who have been repatriated that are of more interest to the RDF.
Since the beginning of the joint operations about two weeks ago or thereabouts, 99 FOCA or EX – FAR/interahamwe combatants and 1,046 refugees have been repatriated to Rwanda and more are yet to be repatriated.
Some FDLR rebels are deserting. The morale of both FDLR combatants, their supporters and dependants is very low.
Further still the FDLR General Headquarters at Kalonge in Masisi Sector has been destroyed and the FDLR rebels together with their Overall Commander Silverstre Mudacumura have fled towards the general area of Bugoyi.
Let me also add that the FDLR and their dependents are facing problems of lack of supplies including food and medicine because they are on the run. They have also lost some of their sources of income especially mines.
In addition they are losing the source of recruits as Rwandan refuges continue to return home. Even forces such as the Mai Mai who used to support them have deserted them. That said, the most important thing is even the message that the governments of DRC and Rwanda are signaling to the FDLR that their honeymoon in DRC is coming to an end.
All these developments I have enumerated that emanate from the successful conduct of operations have impacted heavily on FDLR Command and Control as well as their morale. The joint operations are a sure means of attaining sustainable peace and security in Rwanda and in the DRC.
Qn : In a related development the CNDP and the other militia involved in the Kivu crisis the Pareco are being integrated into the FARDC. What happens to Gen.Laurent Nkunda?
Ans: The military did what they did and which was in their means and mandate by arresting General Nkunda when he was crossing over into the Rwandan territory. As of his fate I would be speculating if I commented on this issue.
Qn : How is the MONUC being involved in this new arrangement given that they have a mandate of restoring peace within the Kivus? Are they showing support in any way in terms of, say sharing intelligence and or logistics?
Ans: Initially MONUC had some concerns regarding the operations. They were later briefed by commanders and staff officers at the Joint Operations Centre in Goma and their concerns were addressed. They have now been brought on board and their role defined.
MONUC has set up 5 reception centres and is ready to provide support through Disarmament, Demobilisation, Repatriation and Reintegration [DDRR] programme. They have also promised to provide some logistical support to the joint force although this has not yet been done.
Qn: Shed some light on the demobilisation and repatriation components of the joint plan. What happens to the FDLR elements who are likely to opt for surrender rather than fight. What is on the works? What is being envisaged in the eventuality that there are mass surrenders for instance of whole fighting units of say, 5,000 or more of rebel troop levels handing over their weapons?
Ans: The FDLR fighters who opt to surrender together with the Rwandan refugees are welcome home. They are free to go through whoever they think can, then ultimately enable them to reach Rwanda.
It could be DRC Local Administration, their relatives in Rwanda, FARDC, RDF or MONUC. As for the figure, that is a very small number. What you are talking about cannot be an overwhelming figure at all.
In 1990s Rwanda was not overwhelmed by millions of refugees who returned from Zaire and Tanzania.
Qn: Further to the above, how is sorting out of the real genocidaires from those who are not complicit in the 1994 Rwandan Genocide going to be undertaken? Does it mean that the Joint Plan is likely to have some short to medium term components given the intricacies of actualising such issues?
Ans: There are no courts and judges in the Joint Operational area. The issue of real genocidaires and accomplices what ever you mean by that does not arise in an operational area.
The objective here is to disarm and repatriate FDLR combatants together of course with other Rwandans and to destroy FDLR units that resist. Sorting out the two groups can come later. I believe that other institutions such as Rwanda Demobilisation and Reintegration Commission will also come in later.
Qn: There are fears within certain corridors of the international community that the Joint Plan is likely to open up old ethnic animosities within some Congolese communities. Can you give a comment on this issue?
Ans: The Congolese leadership and the population are in full support of the operations mainly because these operations were not imposed on both countries. Moreover, all ethnic groups in Eastern DRC are victims of the FDLR.
FDLR kills and rapes in disregard of those ethnic labels. I do not therefore see where the issue of ethnic animosity comes in.
On the contrary people in Eastern DRC have expressed fears that they are going to be killed by FDLR in case the Joint Force comes to an end.
There is also some information that indicates that the FDLR may instead kill innocent people to tarnish the image of the Joint Force.
Qn : Press reports indicate that the FDLR is spread over a territory four to five times the size of Rwanda itself. Rwandan and Congolese troops will have to track their enemy deep into North Kivu, far from their own bases posing likely logistical challenges. What is the kind of tactical and operational plan that has been instituted to address this issue of coverage. Are there time frames committed to this plan?
Ans: The issue of the size of the Area of Operation is known even to the laymen. Although I agree with you that this is a challenge indeed, all I can state is that this factor was put into consideration during the operational planning process. Back to your question, tactical and operational plans are not discussed in the media. They are discussed in Operational cells or centres. On the issue of the timeframe, yes there timeframes committed to the plan. But a plan is a flexible document. Based on this principle of flexibility, the plan can change as long as those who endorsed and blessed it so wish.
Qn: During the course of the joint offensive are we likely to have press briefings on the developments unfolding? If so what are the intervals?
Ans: Media issues are also integrated in the overall operational plan. RDF and FARDC have their media personnel at the Joint Operations Centre in Goma.
By the way press briefings are carried out but I agree with you that we need to inform the wider community on what is happening more than we are currently doing.
You have to understand however that issues of joint operations have indeed to be handled jointly. There are no fixed intervals for press briefings but your concern could be considered.
On this issue of the press, I am happy to note that some media houses in Rwanda including The New Times and those from outside Rwanda have sent their representatives either to the DRC or close to the DRC.
Qn: As a Military Spokesperson what message if any do you want to give out?
Ans: First of all I wish to stress that the dividends of the joint operations should be looked at from both sides. The operations as I have indicated have benefits to both Rwanda and the DRC, something that I mentioned in passing because you did not bring it up.
RDF is happy to note that the integration of CNDP, PARECO and other groups such as Mai Mai with FARDC has started and is going on.
The FDLR have not been annihilated but are in panic and their morale is very low as I earlier on put it. Thousands of Internally Displaced Persons continue to return home.
They can no longer kill innocent Congolese without facing serious consequences. In essence there is peace and security coming to Eastern DRC.
Like the joint force Headquarter has been doing, the RDF appeals to FDLR and Rwandan refugees to return home voluntarily like some have done in the past.
Lastly, the RDF salutes the gallant FARDC and RDF for the excellent work they are undertaking in the interest of both countries.