There should be no more delays in taking military action against the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) militia, Foreign Affairs minister Louise Mushikiwabo said yesterday.
Mushikiwabo, who represented President Paul Kagame at the second mini-summit of Heads of State and Government of the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) in the Angolan capital Luanda, told journalists that extending deadlines for surrender of the DR Congo-based outfit was a delaying tactic.
Hosted by Angolan President and current chairperson of ICGLR, José Eduardo dos Santos, the meeting was attended by Presidents Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and Joseph Kabila of DR Congo, as well as Jacob Zuma of South Africa – who attended as ‘special guest.’
The mini-summit draws Heads of State and representatives from six of the 12 ICGLR member states.
The second mini summit considered the progress made on the security situation in Eastern DR Congo, particularly the eradication of negative forces in the region, according to a statement.
The Heads of State meeting was preceded by the ICGLR restricted Committee of Ministers of Defence and Committee of Chiefs of Defence Staff, between August12 and 13, which recommended urgent military action to neutralise FDLR.
However, in the final communiqué issued at the closure of the meeting, the mini-summit gave the rebels a window for voluntary disarmament before military action can be considered.
“The Mini-Summit gave an ultimatum to FDLR with regard to the period of voluntary surrender process of six months from July 2, as set by the joint ICGLR-SADC meeting of Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Defence and decided to undertake an evaluation of this process in October with clear benchmarks of progress, and in case of no progress, plan military action against FDLR,” the statement reads in part.
Military operations will be initiated if assessment is not satisfactory, the leaders warned. But the statement says Kigali expressed reservations about this approach.
“The Government of Rwanda expressed reservation on subscribing to the FDLR “voluntary surrender” process as a condition to the beginning of Military Operations to eradicate this negative force.”
Speaking from Luanda after the summit, Mushikiwabo warned against further delays in taking action against FDLR.
“Rwanda considers the deadline for action against FDLR long passed and warns against the delaying tactics and diversions,” she said.
Mushikiwabo’s remarks echo statements from many international actors, including the UN, US and UK, who have urged speedy military action against the militants, who are largely blamed for the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
‘Letter to the editor’
In a letter to The New Times yesterday, the British High Commissioner to Rwanda, William Gelling, urged the Congolese government, the UN peacekeepers in the Congo (Monusco) and regional governments to work towards ensuring disarmament of the FDLR as soon as possible.
Referring to statements made at a recent United Nations meeting in New York, Gelling said: “The UK, US and France were united in their view that the military option had to remain ready to use. The UK hopes that all the countries of the region will work to ensure that this timetable slips no further including at today’s [yesterday’s] meeting in Luanda.”
At the meeting in Angola, it was noted that since May, only 186 FDLR rebels and their dependants have surrendered.
UK holds the UN Security Council rotating presidency for the month of August, and the meeting in New York was chaired by UK’s then Minister for Africa, Mark Simmonds.
“The UK took the lead [at the UN Security Council] because we believe that, twenty years after 1994, putting an end to the FDLR and all armed groups is long overdue: we want to see full disarmament as soon as possible and an end to impunity. There is little evidence that the FDLR feel under great pressure to disarm at present,” Gelling said.
“We are also urging the government in Kinshasa to make FARDC forces available for action with Monusco,” he added.
US Permanent Representative to the UN, Samantha Power, addressing the Security Council last week, said the longer the actors take in seeking a permanent solution for the FDLR, the longer it puts at risk any semblance of peace being achieved in the volatile eastern DR Congo.
Official figures indicate that from 2002, over 11,000 FDLR combatants were successfully disarmed, demobilised, repatriated and reintegrated into society.
UN estimates put the strength of the remaining combatants at about 1,500.
In 2009, there were Joint Military Operations conducted by Congolese army and Rwanda Defence Forces that dealt a severe blow to the terrorist group.
But a source at this week’s meeting of Defence Ministers in Angola said DR Congo was still reluctant to endorse a military action.
Last week, Rwanda’s UN Permanent Representative Eugene-Richard Gasana said the Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) of the UN, which defeated the M-23 rebel group late last year, can still take on FDLR.
“FIB has a strong mandate to neutralise all armed groups, including the genocidal FDLR. Rwanda supported its mandate. So we do not need another system, what is needed is goodwill from Monusco to implement the mandate,” Gasana said.
Yesterday’s mini-summit had been convened to assess the implementation of the decisions of the first mini-summit held in Luanda on March 25, which had recommended urgent military action against FDLR elements unwilling to voluntarily surrender and return to Rwanda.