Following the launch of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) £100m disarmament strategy, which aims to eradicate 54 militias over the next five years with UN support, the largest rebel group has significantly escalated violence against civilians living in the east of the vast central African state.
The Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), which includes members of the extremist Hutu militia who fled to eastern DRC after committing genocide against Tutsi in 1994, has committed countless atrocities during their 15-year exile. The most recent attacks, however, have been far more frequent and concentrated in rebel strongholds in Kanyabayonga, Lubero Territory in North Kivu, just 30 km from the Rwandan border.
Since President Kabila’s announcement of the DRC’s third DDR (disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration) plan in March, the FDLR have reportedly displaced 3,200 civilians, raped at least 37 women, and looted over 100 acres of beans, cassava, maize, and potato crops to refuel their military training centres.
Thousands of farmers in the area have reported being too frightened to plant or harvest their crops due to the constant presence of FDLR rebels carrying guns and pangas. This has resulted rising hunger and child malnutrition rates, as well as forcing civilians already living in poor conditions in temporary displacement camps to flee once again.
‘The FDLR are violently resisting the fight that the UN and national army (FARDC) have started against armed groups in the region – they want to make it clear to the international community that they demand to be listened to regarding their request for dialogue and negotiation with the Rwandan government,’ said Bila Inogwabini, country manager at Christian Aid DRC.
‘The rebels are not ready to accept any kind of integration into the Congolese army, and they want to demonstrate that they are still active and can cause absolute mayhem for local people if their requests are not taken seriously.’
Nestor Musumba, director of Christian Aid partner BOAD (Ecumenical bureau of development support), which runs a rural livelihoods project supporting 3,937 households in Rutshuru, South Lubero, also warned: ‘The sudden intensification of random violence and human rights abuses seriously hinders our planting and harvesting activities, meaning that many families are going hungry.
‘The numbers of civilians who have been displaced by the rebels, as well as the number of new cases of sexual violence, are growing every day.’