The armed forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC) has maintained that no big numbers of civilians have been displaced by fresh rebel Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDLR) attacks.
FARDC Spokesman Capt. Olivier Hamuli stressed this yesterday by phone following a report by the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) last week that attacks by the FDLR had displaced nearly 30,000 people in the past two weeks.
FDLR is a rebel group that is mainly composed of perpetrators of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda and have been in the DRC for the last 15 years.
“Yes there was a report by the UNHCR,” Capt. Hamuli confirmed knowledge of the report, but stressed “that is not a military source.”
“We don’t have any camps of IDPs except for some villages where very few displaced persons flee because of the ongoing operations, which is a normal occurrence” he said.
He added: “I cannot tell numbers because there is not any camp for IDPs here. Those fleeing go to friends and families’ houses,” he stressed, further noting that operations against the rebels were continuing.
“Yesterday (Monday) night, we were fighting them in Rutshuru.”
When contacted by phone, UNHCR external relations officer in Goma David Nthengwe reiterated their earlier claim.
“Yes it is true, last week in North Kivu, the report is to the effect that 30,000 people have been displaced in Lubero because of the attacks by the FDLR,” he said, adding that this was revealed after local authorities conducted registration exercises.
MONUC chief military spokesman Lt. Col. Jean-Paul Dietrich, however, could not concretely back the UNHCR in a subsequent phone call.
MONUC is the United Nations Mission in the DRC.
“These are always estimates but what we confirmed is that since the Rwandan army left, the FDLR continues to attack and withdraw which has been ongoing now for several weeks,” Dietrich noted, insisting that this has been “in two or three areas of North Kivu.”
“And these are not military operations but minor skirmishes. The Congolese army can still hold most positions gained from the FDLR; but whenever there is no police in some areas the FDLR, of course, comeback!”
Dietrich recently told The New Times that MONUC has actively joined FARDC in the fight against the rebels.
He however noted that in some places, especially in Lubero area, the local population has been harassed by the FDLR rebels but this too is an “isolated case as well.”
He said that there have been looting and some killings “but, in the past, the FDLR really massacred and that is why the population is very scared.”
“Some of them have been on the move for quite some time. It is quite difficult to figure out, in such instances whether people are fleeing from common banditry or not,” he underscored, also noting that some troops in the FARDC are unruly and still harass civilians.
The Congolese army has endeavoured to strengthen its presence in the war-ravaged east following the recent pullout of the Rwandan army.