FDLR: From architects of genocide to Congo rebels

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As Africa, especially Congolese, ponder the future of the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) following the M23 rebels defeat by the UN Intervention Brigade in collaboration with Congo’s national army, FARDC, key players now want to focus on Forces for Democratic Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).

M23 rebel faction also known as Congolese Revolutionary Army, which was mainly formed by ex- National Congress for Defence of the People (CNDP) fighters led by Brigadier General Sultan Makenga and General Bosco Ntaganda mutinied against the Kinshasa regime early in January, last year, and created a crisis that lasted for nearly 24 months.

But, after facing a strong offensive from the UN Intervention Brigade, the M23 rebel faction was forced to abandon the battlefield, opting for peaceful means to achieve their political goals in DRC.

Following the defeat, leaders from Southern African Development Community (Sadc) and International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) agreed that the focus should now be on FDLR and other rebel forces that have rocked Eastern Congo for years now.

Though, there are about a dozen rebel factions in Eastern Congo alone, the most known faction that has survived undefeated for two decades is FDLR, which has been operating inside Congo, collecting taxes from Congolese to fund its operation and control the illegal minerals trade.

Rwanda, a country accused by UN Group of Experts of aiding the defeated M23 rebel faction last week said it is optimistic that the government in Kinshasa, backed by a UN force with a more aggressive mandate, will turn its attention to FDLR.

Rwandan officials who attended a regional Summit in Pretoria, South Africa, last week, told The Citizen it was decided that the allied forces of DRC and the Force Intervention Brigade of the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo should face FDLR, along a myriad of other militia groups in the war-torn region of Eastern Congo.

The meeting, which brought together two regional blocs; the ICGLR and SADC, was a follow up on the implementation of the UN-backed Framework for Peace, Security and Cooperation for the DRC and the Region signed in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in February, this year.

Rwandan High Commissioner to South Africa Vincent Karega, who was part of the Rwandan delegation to the Summit, reported that the Heads of State and Government Summit resolved that FDLR should urgently be expelled from Congo.

The group has in its rank elements, who fled into Congo after active participation in the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi and moderate Hutus, killing about a million innocent Rwandans. The militia is also accused of committing grave human rights violations during its nearly 20 years of stranglehold on large swathes of eastern Congo region.

The UN Special envoy, Ms Mary Robinson, said on Monday in Addis Ababa following the M23 defeat, the priority would now shift to ending the FDLR, a descendant of Hutu extremist groups that carried out the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

“There is a different perception of what the government and Monusco are jointly doing in eastern Congo, but now all of the armed groups are going to be taken on,” the former Irish President said, referring to the UN mission in the country.

But, some analysts, say there are serious challenges to fight FDLR considering its alleged collaboration with Congolese national army, FARDC, in fighting the Tutsi-led rebellion including the defeated M23 rebels.

In July this year, Rwanda, claiming to have obtained credible evidence, told the UN Security Council that Congolese national army was collaborating with FDLR to fight the M23 rebels in eastern Congo.

The Congolese regime strongly denied the allegations, but few days later, a report by UN Monitoring Group also implicated DRC when it claimed that there were some collaboration between the Congolese national army and Hutus-led rebel faction, FDLR.

Not only that, but also Tanzania, a country whose forces helped crush the M23 rebels in eastern Congo, was named by The East African newspaper, in August, this year, as having smuggled the FDLR second top commander Gen Stanislas Bigaruka to its territory via Lake Tanganyika in January, this year, in order to get military briefings about eastern Congo before deploying its forces there.

Since that period, there have been contradicting reports about the whereabouts of General Bigaruka. Some reports claimed that Bigaruka was grabbed by Rwandese intelligence shortly after his meeting with top Tanzania military officers in Kigoma region early in January, this year, while others maintain that it is the Dar es Salaam regime that knows his whereabouts.

Neither Tanzania nor Rwanda has openly spoken about his whereabouts.

The FDLR genesis

For Dominique Ekofo, a district administrator from Rutshuru in the eastern Kivu Province, the FDLR is a Congolese problem, not a foreign crisis, because at the end of the day, it’s the Congolese who have borne the brunt of the presence of the Hutu militias during the past 19 years.

“The problem of the FDLR is a Congolese problem only. The victims (women, youth and children) aren’t Belgian, French or German– they are Congolese. Thus the solution must also be Congolese.” Ekofo says, adding that time has come for the Congolese to say no to the injustices and sufferings brought by FDLR.

But, for the Kinshasa regime, FDLR is more than what Ekofo says. It is a Rwandese problem, not a Congolese matter.

For President Paul Kagame and his country, FDLR is the biggest threat that Rwanda has fought for over two decades, and is still determined to battle in the name of preventing the architects of genocide from returning to haunt the Kigali regime. But to President Jakaya Kikwete, a man whose country has sent troops in the war-ravaged Congo under the umbrella of Sadc Intervention Brigade, FDLR is more than a rebel faction: It is a political party that Rwanda should negotiate with if the tiny central African country needs a lasting solution for its future stability.

But what is FDLR? Why did it take so long for this rebel faction to be dismantled? What is its ideology? How does it bankroll its operation in Congo for the past 20 years of its existence? Can this Hutu-led rebel faction be defeated once and for all this time?

According to documented evidence, FDLR rose from the ashes of the 1994 genocide perpetrators to form a strong Hutu extremist army, thanks to the free handout and safe haven provided by the UN High Commission for Refugees in eastern Province of Congo’s Kivu Province.

The assassination of Rwanda’s former President Juvenal Habyarimana, which opened the bloody chapter of massacre against Tutsi and moderate Hutus, attracted the wrath of Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) attacks under Paul Kagame in 1994.

During the assassination, RPF led by Paul Kagame were just 40 kilometre outside Kigali, waiting for the implementation of the Arusha peace accord, which among other things would have given the Tutsi rebels some key positions within the transition government that was to be announced soon by Habyarimana.

After months of fierce battle, finally the Kagame-led rebellion ended hundred days of genocide, but also opened the exodus of refugees who fled Rwanda for fear of retaliation from the RPF regime.

In July 1994, an average of 12,000 Rwandan refugees, mainly Hutus, entered the DRC every hour through the town of Goma, fleeing the RPF soldiers who had just toppled the Rwandan regime.

Among them also were Tutsis who fled in fear of the killings launched after the plane carrying President Habyarimana was brought down on April 6, as it prepared to land at Kanombe International Airport.

This massive influx created a severe humanitarian crisis, as there was an acute shortage of shelter, food and water. Shortly after the arrival of nearly one million refugees, a deadly cholera outbreak claimed thousands of lives in the Hutu refugee camps around Goma.

But as the humanitarian crisis dominated the headlines, behind the scene, masters of the genocide began a new chapter of re-assembling a defeated Hutu-led regime with a mission to fight and regain the glory they lost to Kagame and his allies.

According to documents obtained during investigations, which were also corroborated through interviewing various sources, the ousted Rwandese regime assembled various military wings to form a new government that could then fight RPF regime and regain their lost glory.

Among the forces assembled to form a force for fighting the RPF-led regime included Interahamwe militias, rogue Presidential Brigade and the defeated national army. According to documented evidence, this new formed force used refugees as an umbrella and set up operations from the camps around Goma attacking ethnic Tutsis in the Kivus and Rwandan government forces stationed at the Congolese boarder.

During the day time, they were refugees living on UNHCR handouts but at night, they were men of war with a mission to complete the unfinished business: Wiping out all the ‘cockroaches’ (Tutsis) and advancing back to Kigali to regain the lost glory.

Some of the top leaders have fled with millions of cash, which were also used to bankroll the operation.

With Dictator Mobutu under siege from the Goma-based rebels led by General Andre Ngandou Kisase and Laurent Kabila, he quickly formed an alliance with the Hutu rebels born within the UNHCR camps for two major reasons: Help the Kishansa regime defeat the Congolese militias and, in return, Mobutu would also back the Rwandese rebels to topple the RPF regime.

In his report headlined: Is Kagame Africa’s Lincoln or a tyrant exploiting Rwanda’s tragic history? UK journalist Chris McGreal put it this way: The Hutu army and its allied extremist militia, the interahamwe, were watered and fed in UN refugee camps even as they kept up the ethnic killings through cross-border raids.

Kagame had few resources to draw on internally with many traditional institutions, such as the Catholic Church compromised by their part in the killings, including the involvement of priests and nuns in the murder.

Richard Johnson, retired American diplomat, in his book titled: The Travesty of Human Rights Watch on Rwanda, released in the form of electronic copy in March, 2013, narrates how FDLR used the refugee camps in the aftermath of Rwandan genocide to consolidate its military capability: “Housed in so-called ‘refugee camps’ along the border with Rwanda, fed and in effect financed by the international community via the UNHCR and a host of Western NGOs, rearmed by Congo’s Mobutu and France’s Mitterrand, and advised by European friends from among French officialdom and the Christian Democratic International, White Father missionaries, and various European NGOs, the genocidal Hutu power movement began to regroup from its military defeat in Rwanda.

The mastermind behind the FDLR were military men like Colonel Théoneste Bagosora (often described as the “author” of the genocide) and the then Chief of Staff, General Augustine Bizimungu, who were both later arrested and convicted of genocide by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) located in Arusha, Tanzania.

Chris McGreal, one of the few foreign journalists who witnessed the Rwanda genocide first-hand, was dubbed Bogosora “Rwanda’s Himmler”, meaning the man behind the genocide.

“You might call him the Heinrich Himmler of Rwanda. Theoneste Bagosora was less grand than the Nazi SS leader, eschewing pitch-black uniforms and grand military parades, but he espoused an ideology as hateful and ultimately as deadly as the man who oversaw the Holocaust. And he was just as organised.” McGreal wrote in his report published by The Guardian in 2008.

Born in 1941, Bagosora, was a retired colonel and Chief of Staff in Rwanda’s Defence ministry when, in April 1994, he gave the order to implement a long-standing plan to exterminate his country’s Tutsi minority.

One hundred days later, about 800,000 people had been murdered in one of the most extensive mobilisation of a population against its fellow citizens ever seen.

Bagosora was a member of the Akazu, an extremist network drawn from north-west Rwanda with Habyarimana’s wife at its centre. The Akazu was involved in weapons and drug smuggling but, more than anything, it was a solidly pro-Hutu ideological group that viewed the Tutsi minority as the enemy.

Bagosora, who was convicted to life sentence in 2008 by the ICTR, was in league with fellow Akazu members who established a militia, the Interahamwe – whose central ideology was hatred against the minority Tutsis.

In 1992, Bagosora instructed senior Defence ministry officials to draw up the names of those deemed to be enemies of Rwanda and their “accomplices”. The list included moderate Hutu politicians who wanted a negotiated deal with Tutsi rebels, and many prominent Tutsis. A copy of the list was found in the car of a senior army officer killed in a car crash.

When the Hutus dominated regime was ousted in July, 1994, Bogosora and his fellows fled to Congo’s Kivu province before some of them sought political refugee abroad.

But as they fled Rwanda, they went together with their unfinished agenda: To eliminate all Tutsi and return back to reclaim their lost glory, which came to dominate the centre of the Hutu-led militias currently operating in DRC under the umbrella of FDLR.

Whereas the RDR is the direct political descendent of the Hutu power regime that carried out the genocide against the Rwandan Tutsi in 1994, the FDLR is the direct military descendent of the Rwandan Armed Forces (FAR) and Interahamwe militia that spearheaded the killing, says Johnson whose professional experience includes the genocide in Bosnia, and personal experience in living in Rwanda in 2008-2010.

According to Tom Ndahiro, the author of Friends of Evils, a book tracing how those who committed genocide have denied what transpired in 1994, when Laurent Kabila finally fell out with his allies from Rwanda and Uganda, FDLR was quick to extend a helping hand to support him during what came to be known as the Congo’s second war.

According to Ndahiro, the former RPF spokesman turned researcher on genocide issues in Rwanda and Great Lakes Region, throughout its nearly two decades of existence, FDLR has played three major roles: First, it becomes a proxy army to the Congolese regime, a situation that enabled it to survive dating back to the Mubutu era to the current regime. By playing this role, it has managed to remain safe because it received intelligence information and finances from Kinshasa, says Ndahiro.

Rwanda claims that while Congolese regime in the past few years conducted joint operation with its Rwandese counterpart, behind the scene Kinshasa provided intelligence report to FDLR to help its key players remain safe.

The Citizen though could not independently verify these claims during its investigations; it met one senior Congolese national army officer who described FDLR as a bargaining chip used for suppressing any attempt by Rwandese authority to invade DRC.

“This is a game…FDLR is our bargaining chip with Rwanda. We learnt a bitter lesson when our friends from Rwanda decided to fight us during the second Congo War, and since then we decided to use their enemy (FDLR) to suppress Kagame and his soldiers.” A senior Military officer from the Congolese army told me in Goma, early this year.”

The second role of FDLR has been fighting or killing Tutsi in the eastern province of Kivu. As M23 military leader Sultan Emanuel Makenga put it in an interview in Goma in December, 2012; FDLR has been targeting Tutsi especially the Banyamulenge clan. To FDLR, any Tutsi, be it a Congolese or Rwandese, is an enemy that deserves to be killed at any cost.

This scenario has become a replica of the 1994 genocide. Today, the Tutsi under their rebel leaders like Makenga claim that they are in war to defend their people who have been ignored by the Kinshasa regime since the fallout in 1998.

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