Opinions on the activities of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) militia suggest that military approach seems to be gaining the upper hand.
At various forums in the US, last week, different speakers underscored the urgency of dislodging the Congo-based group.
According to the US Permanent Representative to the UN, Samantha Power, 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, where the group has been active for the past 20 years.
“FDLR continue to carry out serious human rights violations and sow fear across DR Congo. For example, in April (they) abducted at least 60 civilians in Walikale territory for refusing to carry out forced labour,” Power said during a special debate of the UN Security Council held in New York on Thursday, held to discuss security issues in DR Congo.
The session was called by the UK in their capacity as chair of the Council for the month of August.
FDLR, which is a blacklisted terror organisation, was created by and is largely composed of remnants responsible for the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
Various speakers at the New York meeting termed the recent annoncement by the group that they were laying down their weapons as a farce, a tactic to buy time, as they regroup.
“The FDLR declared its commitment to disarm – but let us admit, it has done so many times before. Experience (has) shown that only a combination of political and military pressure has led to disarmament and demobilisation (of FDLR),” said the UN Special Representative for DR Congo, Martin Kobler.
According to Kobler, following the declaration by regional states, under the International Conference for the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), giving the militias six months to disarm, they have not been cooperative and on several occasions the FDLR has refused to meet their delegations.
“Over 20 years since the Genocide in Rwanda, the FDLR has made many promises to disarm. Results are all that matter, and military pressure is needed – we have found – for results,” said Power.
Much as many speakers agreed that the FDLR was the major stumbling block in the region, the Government of Rwanda, through its UN Permanent Representative Eugene-Richard Gasana, stressed that the process to deal with the problem was excruciatingly slow.
“FDLR is one of the oldest armed groups in eastern DR Congo, which settled in that area after committing the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. Despite its claims of readiness to disarm, the FDLR continues to recruit and train combatants, including children,” Amb. Gasana told the meeting.
He said the history of the FDLR shows that massive disarmament and repatriation happened mainly because of military campaigns against them.
According to Gasana, such military operations and voluntary surrender should not be an ‘either’ ‘or’ situation, but rather the two actually are complementary to one another.
“To ensure repatriation of remaining FDLR, we need military pressure so that these six months given to the FDLR to disarm, are effectively used to disarm them,” Amb. Gasana, who is also a State minister in charge of Cooperation, told The New Times last week.
Available statistics indicate that from 2002, over 11,000 FDLR combatants were successfully disarmed, demobilised, repatriated and reintegrated into Rwandan society.
According to Kobler, the remaining militia members in DR Congo are estimated to be about 1,500.
This is a relatively small number compared to those that have repatriated, but speaking in Washington early last week, a top envoy to President Barack Obama said the FDLR should not be viewed in terms of military might but rather what it stands for.
“We have to get rid of the FDLR, not so much because of their military capacity, but because of what they represent…they will be attacked militarily if they don’t disarm. There will be no political dialogue,” said Russell Feingold, the US special envoy to the Great Lakes Region, during the just-concluded US-Africa Summit.
This, plus assertions by the diplomats at the New York meeting, are seen to be a growing momentum that could finally lead towards an end for the FDLR, according to Kigali-based Genocide researcher Tom Ndahiro.
Speaking to The New Times last week, Ndahiro said from the latest developments, what was most important was that the world had finally gotten to know the FDLR.
He said the statement by Feingold on what the FDLR represents and how it should not be politically negotiated with, is a strong one and contradicts what some actors in the region had been agitating for.
“This is diametrically opposed to the position of countries like Tanzania, which still think that Rwanda can negotiate with the genocide perpetrators. It is absurd that someone in Washington sees sense where a neighbour does not,” said Ndahiro.
He accused Monusco officials of doublespeak when it came to FDLR, adding that despite what Kobler told the meeting in New York, he only recently sanctioned the violation of international sanctions against some commanders of FDLR by allowing them to travel.