DR Congo: rebels jeopardise fragile peace

Despite assurances by President Joseph Kabila that peace has been restored throughout the country and that it can press ahead with the task of reconstruction, the situation in eastern DRC remains highly unstable and the gains of the military victory, won in November 2013, against the M23 Tutsi rebels, have not yet been decisively consolidated.

The future of the M23 rebels is still by no means certain: 1,700 of them are still in Uganda, awaiting a response to their demand for protection under the law granting amnesty, so that they can go back to the country without fear of prosecution; 600 others are in Rwanda, also awaiting amnesty.

Although some observers consider the figures excessive, given the losses suffered during the battles in North Kivu, the existence of hundreds of experienced and determined fighters is still a threat to the Congolese army, regardless of how much it has progressed in terms of training and armament.

Furthermore, the main reason (theoretically) behind the M23’s emergence, which was the need to fight against the Hutu-led FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda) and prevent them from threatening Kigali, remains present: there are still some 1,500 Hutu rebels in eastern DRC, and the offensive intended to neutralise them once and for all has not yet even begun!

And yet there was no shortage of promises following the victory won against the M23: both the Congolese army and the United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission in Congo (MONUSCO), along with the 3000-strong African Intervention Brigade composed of troops from South Africa, Tanzania and Malawi, had repeatedly insisted that, given Rwanda’s security concerns, absolute priority would be given to neutralising the FDLR.

This has not, by any means, been the case. The Congolese and UN troops successfully went after the Ugandan rebel group, ADF-Nalu, which was pushed out of the country, hunted down several Congolese armed groups and had hundreds of men agree to lay down their arms.

This does not nonetheless mean that the problem has been solved: the camps for demobilised fighters are operating under appalling conditions, giving rise to countless desertions.

Meanwhile, the FDLR troops, considered to be the most dangerous, most harmful armed group (and among those responsible for the proliferation of sexual violence), have benefited from a series of worrying reprieves. The Congolese authorities, insisting that they were favouring the peaceful option, have granted them several grace periods, hoping that they would disarm voluntarily.

Transit camps were opened in South Kivu, near Kaniola, and North Kivu, near Kanyabayonga, where the demobilised fighters can await their transfer to another province, such as Equateur, or to Kisangani, before potentially being taken in by third countries.

But things did not go as planned. It transpires that none of the leaders were to be found among the hundreds that demobilised.

Moreover, having settled among the same people they terrorised for decades in Kivu, the Rwandan ex-combatants refused to go to other provinces further away from the border, arguing, among other things, that they would face hostility from the local populations there.

It is a fact that civil society in Equateur and Orientale Province has protested, loudly and clearly, against the arrival of these men whose heinous reputation precedes them.

Finally, their spokespersons put Martin Kobler, the head of MONUSCO, to the test, laying down as a precondition the opening of the political space in Rwanda and dialogue with Kigali, something the Rwandan authorities have insistently rejected.

In other words, the "voluntary disarmament" strategy seems to be well and truly blocked.

It remains to be seen whether the government forces and MONUSCO will have the courage to go on to plan B: military operations against men who, after decades of violence, are hardened combatants who, moreover, know the terrain like the back of their hand, and have extensive relations in the Congolese army...

 

This story has been translated from French.