Les FDLR doivent desarmer
Les FDLR doivent desarmer
De-escalating Tensions in the Great Lakes
De-escalating Tensions in the Great Lakes
Op-Ed / Africa

Les FDLR doivent desarmer

Pourchassé par les armées du Congo (RDC) et du Rwanda et isolé politiquement par la communauté internationale, le groupe rebelle Hutu rwandais des Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (FDLR) a entamé depuis janvier 2009 une campagne de représailles massives contre la population des provinces du Kivu. Après 15 années de présence armée au Congo, Ignace Murwanashyaka, le président des FDLR qui réside en Allemagne, a conduit ses combattants dans une impasse politique et stratégique totale.

Le 6 août dernier, le président rwandais Paul Kagame était à Goma, la capitale du Nord-Kivu, pour s’entretenir avec son homologue congolais Joseph Kabila de coopération économique régionale et des suites de la campagne militaire que leurs forces avaient menée conjointement contre les FDLR au début de l’année. Alors que les deux anciens adversaires discutaient dans un hôtel de la ville, l’armée congolaise conduisait l’opération Kimia II à travers le Nord et le Sud-Kivu, pour désarmer les quelque 6.000 combattants restant des FDLR. En Europe, des diplomates étudiaient de nouvelles approches juridiques pour sanctionner les dirigeants du mouvement vivant dans leur pays, complices des violations des droits de l’homme commises par leurs troupes au Congo.

La situation actuelle des FDLR offre un contraste saisissant avec celle qui prévalait en 2002, lorsque le groupe rebelle bénéficiait encore du soutien officiel du gouvernement congolais.

A cette époque, les 15.000 à 20.000 combattants des FDLR constituaient une force d’appoint essentielle pour Kinshasa, dans son bras de fer permanent avec Kigali. Les dirigeants du mouvement, dont certains avaient participé au génocide de 1994 avant de se réfugier au Congo, tentaient d’imposer par la force leur retour politique au Rwanda. Malgré leur idéologie révisionniste et leur recours à la lutte armée, ils constituaient alors toujours des interlocuteurs légitimes aux yeux de membres modérés de l’opposition rwandaise en exil. Sur le terrain, les FDLR bénéficiaient également de la collaboration de certains Congolais, reprochant au Rwanda son occupation et les crimes de guerre commis contre les populations civiles pendant les deux guerres de 1996-1997 et de 1998-2003.

Suite à l’accord de paix de Pretoria de juillet 2002 qui contraint Kabila à mettre fin à l’alliance officielle entre Kinshasa et les FDLR, les membres du groupe armé rebelle n’ont plus eu les moyens militaires de combattre véritablement le régime de Kigali, comme en témoignait déjà l’échec cuisant de l’opération Oracle du Seigneur contre le Rwanda en mai-juin 2001. La hiérarchie des FDLR a donc maintenu ses combattants mobilisés, par l’espoir que la communauté internationale soutienne le concept de « dialogue inclusif interrwandais ». L’ouverture de ce dialogue, similaire au dialogue intercongolais de 2002 ayant conduit à la participation de divers chefs rebelles à un gouvernement de transition, aurait alors contraint Kagame à partager le pouvoir avec eux.

Aujourd’hui, la réalité est très différente de la propagande élaborée par la hiérarchie des FDLR pour motiver ses combattants. L’accumulation des témoignages documentant depuis sept ans la systématisation des crimes commis contre les populations civiles démontre que le groupe n’est pas un mouvement d’opposition armé en exil, mais une organisation criminelle d’occupation. Les années de fuite au Congo ont transformé le mouvement rebelle en une organisation tout entière vouée au pillage des ressources naturelles du Kivu.

Pour imposer leur contrôle aux populations locales, les FDLR multiplient régulièrement les atrocités, dont les massacres et les viols collectifs. Lors de l’opération Umoja Wetu menée par la coalition Rwanda-Congo de janvier à février 2009, les villageois du Nord-Kivu ont spontanément collaboré avec l’armée rwandaise. Surpris et furieux de ce qu’ils ont considéré être une trahison, les responsables du mouvement ont alors ordonné une campagne de représailles contre les civils congolais. Malgré les violations des droits de l’homme imputables aux soldats congolais, ce sont les rebelles rwandais qui portent la responsabilité principale des 800.000 nouveaux déplacés congolais observés depuis le début de l’année par les Nations unies au Kivu.

In fine, en dépit des lacunes démocratiques graves du régime rwandais, aucun projet politique ne saurait justifier cet asservissement des populations congolaises. L’absence de résultats significatifs obtenus par Umoja Wetu ou Kimia II démontre moins la capacité de résistance opérationnelle des FDLR aux tentatives de désarmement forcé que l’obstination de leurs responsables politiques à refuser la réalité de leur isolement et la dégradation considérable de leur situation stratégique ces derniers mois.

Les dirigeants des FDLR ne reprendront pas le pouvoir à Kigali par la force et aucun acteur extérieur n’imposera à Kagame leur présence dans un gouvernement de transition. La seule option des combattants du groupe rebelle réside dans le désarmement et leur réintégration à la vie civile au Rwanda ou dans un pays tiers.

En refusant d’admettre l’échec irrémédiable de son projet politique, Ignace Murwanashyaka retient en otage la population des Kivu de même que l’ensemble des combattants voulant désarmer. Il lui faut désormais tirer les conséquences de son isolement et de ses échecs, mettre fin à cette guerre qui n’a pas de sens ou tôt ou tard, assumer les conséquences judiciaires de ses actes.
 

Commentary / Africa

De-escalating Tensions in the Great Lakes

President Tshisekedi’s plans for joint operations with DR Congo’s belligerent eastern neighbours against its rebels risks regional proxy warfare. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2020 for European policymakers, Crisis Group urges the EU to encourage diplomatic efforts in the region and Tshisekedi to shelve his plan for the joint operations.

This commentary is part of our Watch List 2020.

Since assuming office in early 2019, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) president, Félix Tshisekedi, has stressed his determination to dismantle the dozens of Congolese and foreign armed groups blighting the troubled east of the country. He has also prioritised repairing ties with neighbouring states, which have historically both backed and fought against rebels in the eastern DRC over various cycles of war in the last two decades. Today, tensions are again mounting among the DRC’s neighbours – between Burundi and Uganda, on one hand, and Rwanda, on the other – potentially compounding the country’s security challenges. Alongside Tshisekedi’s diplomatic efforts to calm tensions, he has floated plans to invite these three neighbours to deploy their armed forces into the DRC to conduct joint operations with Congolese forces against rebels. Yet insofar as tensions among those countries remain high, such operations could pave the way for them to step up support to allied groups even while fighting rivals, and thus fuel proxy warfare. Civilians in the eastern DRC are likely to suffer most.

In line with its December Foreign Affairs Council conclusions that lay out the EU’s plans for re-engagement with the DRC, and to help President Tshisekedi de-escalate regional tensions, the EU and its member states should:

  • Reinforce the International Contact Group for the Great Lakes region, an informal gathering comprising the UN (including both the UN’s special envoy to the Great Lakes and the head of its mission in the DRC, MONUSCO), the U.S., the African Union and South Africa, as well as the EU and several European states that are important donors in the region, such as Belgium, the UK, Germany, France, the Netherlands and Sweden. The EU and European governments could designate senior EU and other European ministerial appointees to fill the group, over and above the working-level desk officers who normally tend to participate.
  • Use the increased clout this would bring to push for a mechanism whereby each of the three neighbours airs allegations against states they believe are backing armed groups in the DRC and supports the charges with evidence. Allegations can then be investigated by the UN Group of Experts and the Expanded Joint Verification Mechanism of the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (the ICGLR comprises regional states and is a guarantor of a 2013 regional peace agreement; its joint verification mechanism and the UN expert group already have mandates to investigate claims of support to armed groups). Their findings could inform diplomatic efforts to de-escalate tensions among neighbours and end their backing of insurgents in the DRC.
  • At the same time, encourage President Tshisekedi to shelve, at least for now, his plan for joint operations with neighbours’ security forces.
  • Offer financial and technical support for the national disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) process, to ensure that Congolese militias linked to foreign rebels operating in the eastern DRC have a safe pathway to giving up their fight.

In recent months, eastern DRC-based foreign insurgencies have escalated attacks on both the Congolese army as well as soldiers and civilians in neighbouring countries. The Burundian, Rwandan and Ugandan presidents are all rattling their sabres in response, accusing one another of proxy warfare.

On 4 October, DRC-based fighters killed fourteen people in Kinigi village in Rwanda’s Musanze district. Rwandan authorities blame the Forces démocratiques de liberation du Rwanda (FDLR) rebels. They say the FDLR is working with another DRC-based rebel group, the Rwanda National Congress (RNC), which they allege is run by one of President Paul Kagame’s former generals. They also say both the FDLR and the RNC enjoy Burundian and Ugandan support. In a speech, Kagame vowed to retaliate against anyone seeking to attack Rwanda.

After the Kinigi killings, fighters crossed into Burundi from the DRC to launch two separate deadly attacks. Burundian RED-Tabara rebels, whom Burundian officials say are backed by Rwanda, claimed the first attack. No one claimed the second, but Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza, recalling Kigali’s support for mutineers in a 2015 coup attempt, blamed Rwanda for both attacks, alleging that Kigali supports RED-Tabara. Ugandan officials, for their part, assert that Rwanda is collaborating with the Allied Democratic Forces, a rebel movement with roots in Uganda that is implicated in dozens of massacres in the Beni area of North Kivu since 2014.

Rwandan and Ugandan officials continue to trade accusations that each is plotting to destabilise the other.

Rwandan and Ugandan officials continue to trade accusations that each is plotting to destabilise the other. Both governments have purged their security services of suspected traitors. Rwanda has now also closed a main border crossing into Uganda, suffocating trade between the two countries. Meanwhile, Burundi and Rwanda have dispatched troops to their mutual border while Uganda has deployed troops to its western frontier facing North Kivu. Should these tensions heighten, they could fuel more proxy fighting in the eastern DRC, further threatening regional stability.

Recognising the dangers, Tshisekedi invited Rwanda and Uganda for talks in July and August hosted by Angolan President João Lourenço in the Angolan capital Luanda. They culminated in a memorandum of understanding, signed on 21 August, in which both countries promised to halt “actions conducive to destabilisation or subversion in the territory of the other party and neighbouring countries”. In addition to these diplomatic efforts, the DRC president floated plans that would involve the armed forces of Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda conducting joint military operations with Congolese forces against insurgents in the eastern DRC. Absent political de-escalation among the neighbour governments, such operations could pave the way for all three to ratchet up support to proxies opposing their respective rivals. The eastern DRC could again become the arena for a multi-sided melee.

In its latest Foreign Affairs Council Conclusions on the DRC in December 2019, the EU asserted its readiness to redefine its relationship with the country. This comes after relations between Brussels and Kinshasa cooled at the tail end of Kabila’s presidency, when the EU sanctioned some of his top henchmen in late 2018. President Tshisekedi has expressed an increasing willingness to work with Brussels even as the EU renewed sanctions in December 2019 against twelve of the fourteen Kabila-era officials. In particular, the EU could help de-escalate regional tensions and lessen neighbours’ support to foreign armed groups while contributing to pathways to surrender for Congolese fighters allied to such groups.

The immediate priority is to encourage President Tshisekedi to reinvigorate diplomatic efforts to calm tensions among DRC’s neighbours.

The immediate priority is to encourage President Tshisekedi to reinvigorate diplomatic efforts to calm tensions among DRC’s neighbours while putting aside, at least for now, plans for those neighbours to conduct military operations in the eastern DRC. The EU’s best bet for pressing for an approach along these lines would be to increase its influence in the International Contact Group for the Great Lakes, the informal group to which it and a number of European states belong. Brussels and other European capitals should commit more senior officials both to the contact group itself and to liaising with the group and with regional governments. Together with the UN special envoy to the Great Lakes, Xia Huang, who has recently been instrumental in bringing together the Burundian, Congolese, Rwandan and Ugandan intelligence chiefs to discuss their deteriorating relations, the EU should use its weight in the group to prioritise the need for a political solution to tackling foreign armed groups in the eastern DRC.

Such a solution could entail Xia encouraging the three states to lay out their allegations and evidence of support by their rivals to armed groups in the DRC. He could share all information received with the UN Group of Experts and the Expanded Joint Verification Mechanism of the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region. The evidence provided by regional states, and investigations conducted by the expert group and joint verification mechanism, could collectively inform diplomatic efforts to halt or diminish support to DRC-based insurgents.

By financially and technically supporting the national DDR process, the EU can also back Tshisekedi’s priority of tackling the plague of Congolese armed groups. Congolese insurgents, many of whom are sucked into alliances with more powerful foreign armed groups, often lack an alternative in the absence of a fully funded DDR program. Under Kabila, the Congolese authorities gave only limited resources to DDR. Several donors pulled out, frustrated by Kinshasa’s lack of commitment to funding a national program. Despite the uptick in attacks in the east, there are signs that some fighters are placing greater hope in Tshisekedi’s presidency and expressing greater desire to surrender. MONUSCO’s new mandate, adopted at the end of December 2019, encourages the DRC’s government to appoint a senior coordinator to lead the DDR effort. The EU could consider supplying this person with the necessary funding and expertise to carry out the mandate.

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