The Rwandan Hutu militia FDLR has surrendered a few fighters in eastern Congo. In doing so, it protects itself from UN military strikes.
May 30: FDLR fighters at a disarmament ceremony in Buleusa. Photo: reuters
Two white UN helicopters landed them in the middle of the eastern Congolese bush near the village of Buleusa-Kateko, some 200 kilometers from North Kivu’s provincial capital Goma: UN staff, diplomats, General Delphin Kahimbi of Congo’s government army, responsible for demobilization. It was May 30, mid-morning.
FDLR transitional president Major General Victor Byiringiro was already waiting in a meadow, surrounded by some 30 armed bodyguards, with his "ministers," transitional Secretary General Wilson Irategeka, and several high-ranking FDLR officers in civilian clothes but with pistols on their belts. They seemed to have been holding out there for days, and had even erected huts made of bamboo, against the rain.
The FDLR leadership had announced in a written statement on April 18 that they would lay down their arms in two places, one in North Kivu and one in South Kivu, on May 30 and give up the armed struggle against their homeland, Rwanda – on the condition that they come to a safe third country and that Rwanda’s government negotiate with them. Rwanda’s government refuses. To them, the FDLR are the perpetrators of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.
The UN mission in Congo (Monusco) had to play the game: Earlier this year, German Monusco chief Martin Kobler threatened the FDLR with military strikes if they did not surrender. "Your time is up," Kobler had threatened. Shortly after a UN intervention force in eastern Congo defeated the highly armed rebel army M23 (Movement of the 23rd Regiment), the FDLR was attacked. March), led by Tutsi generals, it was now the Hutu militia’s turn.
Immediately, the FDLR sent statements around the world that they would voluntarily lay down their arms. A stalemate: The UN cannot launch an operation against a militia waving a white flag. That gave the FDLR time and peace.
Young fighters and functional weapons
Exactly 105 warriors now laid down some 90 weapons in Buleusa – young and active fighters, after all, not old and invalids. They came with Kalashnikovs, rocket launchers and a mortar – old, but functional. The UN blue helmets loaded the weapons into a container and 97 of the weary warriors onto a truck and drove them to a camp in the town of Kanyabayonga. There, they will be assessed to see if they can be returned to their native Rwanda under the UN demobilization program.
FDLR leader Byiringiro gave a speech thanking the Congolese people: "For their hospitality for 20 years, despite all the difficulties the Congolese have suffered." Until recently, FDLR fighters killed civilians in this region. For 20 years, the Hutu militia has waged war against the Tutsi government in Rwanda from eastern Congo. Its victims are mainly Congo’s civilians, for which FDLR political leaders have been on trial in Germany since 2011.
The Congolese chief of the village of Katiku now declared in Buleusa: "These people have caused us a lot of suffering. If they leave, we will develop."
Not the first disarmament ceremony
The next FDLR handover ceremony was to take place in South Kivu on Monday. But experts doubt its seriousness. In the past, the FDLR has declared countless times that it will disarm. Again and again, a small number laid down their arms. But their structures remained in place. The FDLR recruits its fighters from its own offspring and is thus able to maintain its fighting strength.
According to UN estimates, the FDLR still has 1,400 men in the bush. 105 men – that’s not even a combat unit; that’s how many deserted every month so far anyway.
The five international special envoys for Congo and the region responded sharply at the start of a special meeting in Kinshasa starting Monday, saying only "an insignificant number of low-ranking fighters" had surrendered. They urged "the complete surrender of all FDLR fighters and senior leaders." Otherwise, there would be military strikes.
From war in Congo to terror in Rwanda?
But it seems that the FDLR has secured its survival for now. Analysts now fear that the disarmament ceremony was just a distraction. Rwanda’s intelligence officials have recently registered increased infiltrations of suspected FDLR reconnaissance teams and "sleepers" from Congo into Rwanda. Fears are rife that the FDLR is now shifting from its original conventional warfare in Congo to a terrorist strategy in Rwanda itself.
And in the eastern Congolese bush, the militiamen can continue. The FDLR has recently formed alliances with numerous Congolese Hutu groups. Officially, this coalition calls itself PPH (Protective Power of the Hutu Population). There is an option for the FDLR to reorganize under a new name within this alliance.