The largest remaining illegal foreign-armed group operating in the Democratic Republic of Congo faces military action unless it demobilizes within three months, the U.S. ambassador to the country said.
The Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, known by its French acronym FDLR, is required by the Central African nation’s government to meet a disarmament and repatriation deadline by Jan. 2, 2015. A previous deadline of June 9 was extended by President Joseph Kabila’s administration after only a few hundred fighters complied.
“Our view is that there has been no voluntary demobilization since June,” James Swan said in an interview in the capital, Kinshasa, on Sept. 26. If the FDLR doesn’t meet the requirements set by the Congolese government, it “will face military consequences” by United Nations-backed Congolese forces, he said.
The FDLR, a mainly ethnic-Hutu group that opposes the government in neighboring Rwanda, currently has about 1,800 combatants in Congo. Some of the group’s leaders have outstanding arrest warrants stemming from their alleged involvement in the 1994 Rwandan genocide that left at least 800,000 people dead. During the 1990s, the FDLR had as many as 13,000 combatants in Congo, according to the United Nations.
“There’s not just one FDLR, there are now three factions,” said General Carlos Alberto Dos Santos Cruz, the head of the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo, known as Monusco. Two of those factions “are not participating in the disarmament process,” he said in an interview in Goma, capital of North Kivu province in eastern Congo.
About 17,000 peacekeepers have helped Kabila’s government repel and contain various rebel movements since 2010. In March 2013, the UN Security Council authorized the deployment of 3,000 UN forces to operate in an offensive capacity in Congo. The Force Intervention Brigade comprises 1,000 soldiers each from Tanzania, Malawi and South Africa.
Monusco has operations planned in coordination with the government army, known as FARDC, as well as troops on the ground to act if the FDLR doesn’t comply, Dos Santos Cruz said.
“The military posture will follow the political posture,” he said. “At this moment, it’s impossible to predict an early strike.”
About 24 rebel groups operate in eastern Congo, according to the UN. The region is rich in tin ore, gold and coltan, an ore used in smartphones and laptops. In December, Congolese forces, supported by the intervention brigade, defeated a 20-month rebellion by M23. Congo’s government accused Rwanda of backing the group, who, like Rwanda’s government, were mainly led by ethnic Tutsis. Rwanda’s government denied the allegation.
Last year, the UN proposed using drones to gather intelligence on rebel groups in Congo, a plan that Rwandan officials initially denounced as “belligerent.” Rwandan President Paul Kagame later issued a statement saying the use of drones should be allowed.
There are currently three drones operating in eastern Congo under UN oversight.
African nations involved in the FDLR disarmament process will make the final decision regarding military action against the group, after an October meeting with regional officials involved in the Congolese peace-building process.
“All operations will be coordinated with the FARDC and under their leadership,” said Ray Torres, Monusco’s head of office in North Kivu. “If the FDLR decides to engage, we will support with all our capacity. Moreover if the FDLR carries out any offensive operation, we will respond.”
By Malcolm Beith of Bloomberg.com