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Rwandan Hutu Rebels in the Congo: a New Approach to Disarmament and Reintegration
Rwandan Hutu Rebels in the Congo: a New Approach to Disarmament and Reintegration
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
A Perilous Free-for-all in the Eastern DR Congo?
A Perilous Free-for-all in the Eastern DR Congo?
Report 63 / Africa

Rwandan Hutu Rebels in the Congo: a New Approach to Disarmament and Reintegration

While a transition government is scheduled to be installed in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in June 2003, the program of the United Nations Mission in Congo (MONUC) for voluntary disarmament and demobilisation, repatriation, rehabilitation and reintegration (DDRRR, henceforth DR) of foreign armed groups has remained a failure.

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Executive Summary

While a transition government is scheduled to be installed in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in June 2003, the program of the United Nations Mission in Congo (MONUC) for voluntary disarmament and demobilisation, repatriation, rehabilitation and reintegration (DDRRR, henceforth DR)[fn]The concepts of disarmament and reintegration subsume all ideas contained in the technical term DDRRR. In the interest of simplicity and to avoid unnecessary jargon, we will henceforth use DR for DDRRR in this report and urge others to do likewise.Hide Footnote  of foreign armed groups has remained a failure. Authorised by Security Council mandate on 18 November 2001 to deploy in eastern Congo, MONUC has repatriated only a few hundred Rwandan ex-rebels and has opened only one demobilisation centre at Lubero in North Kivu. The participation of South African observers in the Third Party Verification Mechanism (TPVM) established by an accord between Rwanda and Congo in July 2002, has not changed anything. MONUC has still not deployed a serious force in eastern Congo or constructed a credible DR program.

Many factors have contributed to this failure. First, the political and security environment is quite unfavourable for the deployment of UN forces (which themselves have been disorganised and in need of a new mandate and structures) in territory controlled by the Rassemblement Congolais pour la Démocratie (RCD) and other proxies for Rwanda and Uganda. The profusion of armed groups and warlords sympathetic to the Hutu rebels (FDLR) and the open hostility of the RCD rebellion make it extremely difficult to disarm hostile forces that are at least 15,000 strong and have been hardened by more than eight years of fighting across 150,000 square kilometres. But most of all, Rwanda and DRC’s decision to keep their military options open, and the tension between Rwanda and Uganda that has led to the intensification of the conflict in the Northeastern province of Ituri have diminished any prospect for disarmament and demobilisation of the Rwandan rebels. The Kinshasa government has resumed its support of them, after having stopped between November 2002 and February 2003. The Mai Mai’s continued alliance with the Hutu armed groups has also maintained their military capacity.

Secondly, the DR concept is fundamentally flawed. To date, MONUC’s mandate and the Pretoria Accord of July 2002 have treated disarmament strictly as a security and Congolese issue. In other words, the internal Rwandan political dimension, has not received serious attention. Neither MONUC nor the TPVM has made any genuine political contacts with the FDLR, the group that is supposed to disarm. And not a single international actor has publicly made the link between the DR process of the FDLR in the Congo and the need for greater political openness and reconciliation in Rwanda.

The only alternative to voluntary disarmament is disarmament by force. This has been tried and has not succeeded. There is no military solution to the problem of the FDLR. The Rwandan Defence Forces (RDF, formerly Rwandan Patriotic Army) have not succeeded in destroying them in six years of military presence in North and South Kivu. The majority of the FDLR rejects the process of voluntary disarmament. The attack on the military camp at Kamina, where FDLR were cantoned, by Congo’s armed forces (FAC) and the forced repatriation of eight civilian members of the movement by TPVM on 1 November 2002 prompted them to threaten reprisals against South Africa and MONUC. What is needed now are stronger diplomatic efforts that address the security, political and economic concerns of the non-génocidaires FDLR rank and file, including with the government of Rwanda and between Rwanda and the DRC.

Far from disappearing, the problem of the Rwandan opposition has become more complicated. The FDLR has linked up with the Concertation permanente de l’opposition démocratique rwandaise (CPODR), which groups together almost all Rwanda’s exiled opposition parties, including Tutsi genocide survivors, and is calling for suspension of Rwanda’s transition timetable and denouncing the authoritarianism of the RPF. At the same time, its military command is reorganising troops and preparing destabilisation operations in case its political strategy fails. For its part, the Rwandan government flatly refuses to recognise, let alone negotiate with, an opposition it sees as génocidaire and terrorist and refuses to accept any international intervention in what it sees as an internal matter. It is pursuing its transition agenda by seeking to eliminate virtually all internal political opposition before July 2003 elections and by redeploying troops into the Congo under the umbrella of the RCD. This political strategy permits the exiled opposition to find more support inside the country and has only heightened tensions.

There is at present a great temptation for MONUC to rely on the inclusion of Rwanda’s ally, the RCD, in the DRC transitional government to implement the DR process and to shift its focus to supporting Kinshasa’s political transition. However, this is a faulty calculation. Despite prospects for an inclusive government, Rwanda’s allies continue to fight, and Kabila’s government continues to provide supplies to the FDLR. This is the reality that MONUC has to tackle squarely before it can ever hope that a unified government will lead to a genuine DR. In parallel with strengthened diplomacy, MONUC must assume a true peacekeeping presence in the east and in the northeast, where the fighting is taking place. As we see now in Ituri, MONUC’s impotence has become a dramatic liability to the Congo peace process. MONUC needs to urgently deploy a rapid reaction force to restore order and prevent further massacres of the civilians it is already mandated to protect. It also needs credible military force to deter the FDLR from destabilising Rwanda and to back-up its diplomatic efforts for voluntary disarmament. If the war does not stop in the east, the new Congolese government will quickly lose all its credibility, and the entire MONUC mission will become a nullity.

It is vital that the Security Council seize the opportunity of the new transition government in the DRC to give a new dynamism to DR operations that have suffered from a lack of commitment of the parties and a lack of political leadership. MONUC should, therefore, complete its deployment in the east and fulfil its obligations towards DR operations. It must enable the transition government to restore its authority across the country, while isolating and maintaining watch over the FDLR, making direct contact with it, and finally establishing a credible disarmament and reintegration program. Simultaneously the South African government and the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General (SRSG) should work together to transform the July 2002 Pretoria agreement into a durable and comprehensive peace agreement between the RDC and Rwanda. They should also be given a Security Council mandate to lead consultations with the Rwandan Hutu rebels on disarmament, as well as with the Rwandan government. The international community as a whole must convince the Rwandan government that the solution to ending the spiral of violence is a political opening, the precondition for which is a  genuine national debate.

Nairobi/Brussels, 23 May 2003

Podcast / Africa

A Perilous Free-for-all in the Eastern DR Congo?

This week on Hold Your Fire! Richard Atwood talks to Great Lakes expert Nelleke van de Walle about the escalation of violence in the eastern DR Congo, as Uganda and Burundi deploy troops to fight rebels in the area and Rwanda threatens to do the same.

Neighbouring states are fighting again in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. In November 2021, Tshisekedi invited Ugandan units to cross into the DRC’s North Kivu province in pursuit of the ISIS-linked Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a Ugandan rebel group blamed for a high profile attack last November in Ugandan capital Kampala. The following month, Burundian soldiers clashed with a Burundian rebel group also on Congolese soil. Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame has suggested that his country’s troops could soon also cross the border to battle Rwandan rebels, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), who are also based in the eastern DRC.

This week on Hold Your Fire! Richard Atwood talks to Crisis Group’s Great Lakes expert Nelleke van de Walle to make sense of what’s happening. They discuss politics among Great Lakes leaders and Tshisekedi’s efforts to develop closer ties to his neighbours in an effort to stabilise the eastern Congo. They talk about the myriad rebel groups – Congolese and foreign – active in the area, and their local and regional ties. They discuss Kagame’s concerns and how Tshisekedi can better delineate the role of the thousands of Ugandan forces now in the DR Congo. They also discuss how the Congolese president and other regional leaders can dissuade Kagame from sending in Rwandan forces. They discuss the role of the DR Congo’s neighbours in the east, an area that has long suffered from foreign meddling and predatory rebel groups, and prospects for improving the lives of its inhabitants.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more on the fighting in the eastern DRC, check out Crisis Group’s extensive analysis on our Great Lakes regional page and keep an eye out for an upcoming briefing on the conflict.

Contributors

Executive Vice President
atwoodr
Project Director, Great Lakes
PMvandeWalle