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M23 Rebellen in Goma Kongo
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

DRC rebels slow to disarm

Philipp Sandner / mc
October 1, 2014

The Democratic Republic of Congo wants to disarm and disband rebels on its territory. But very few are handing themselves in voluntarily. Some blame the bleak prospects awaiting them once they have taken this step.


UN troops gave the rebel groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo six months to disarm. During this timeframe rebels from Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) were expected to voluntarily lay down their weapons.

This was supposed to be a first step towards their reintegration into society. Three months have elapsed in the meantime and the results have not been encouraging. So far just two hundred rebels and their dependents have registered at the transit camp in Kanyabayonga intended to receive them.

This was reason enough for international peacekeepers to repeat their call to the rebels to disarm. "The UN reiterates it call to the rebels to hand in their weapons and agree to be taken to a place outside the Kivu provinces," General Abdallah Wafy, the UN Secretary General's Deputy Special Representative for the Democratic Republic of Congo said.

He added there were no further conditions attached, but said that additional steps could be taken against the leadership of the FDLR.

A long, drawn-out conflict

Omar Kavota represents civil society organizations in Nord Kivu and is dissatisfied with the government and the UN. "As long as there are no military measures, the rebels won't hand themselves in," he told DW. "We call on the Democratic Republic of Congo and the UN peacekeeping force in the DRC, MONUSCO, to dispatch troops to FDLR-held territory," Kovata said.

He believes that would be a signal to all who don't surrender voluntarily that they will be tracked down." Kavota also suspects that some of the rebels who handed themselves in at Kanyabayonga are now on the run again. He thinks that an offer by Rwanda to take in the disarmed rebels could be a solution.

UNO-Mission Kongo
The UN maintains a mission of some 20,000 troops in the DRCImage: DW/D. Köpp

The FDLR has political significance in the region. It was founded in the mid-1990s by former members of the Hutu militia held responsible for Rwanda's 1994 genocide. Rwanda regards the FDLR as a threat and has sent troops into the DRC on several occasions to fight them.

Rwanda's President Paul Kagame has persistently complained about the unwillingness of the DRC government to resolve the problem of the FDLR. The dispute escalated when the M23 rebel group started capturing swathes of Nord Kivu in March 2012.

International observers suspected that the Rwandan government was backing the group. DRC army generals enlisted the support of the FDLR in the campaign against M23. It was a low-water mark in the already troubled bilateral relations between Rwandan and the DRC.

Not just a Rwandan problem

In 2013 the DRC received backing in its military campaign against the rebels from the southern African regional bloc SADC. By the end of 2013, the M23 rebels had been driven out of their last redoubts in the DRC and had been forced to flee to Uganda.

Why the rebels were then subsequently given six months to disarm is something that Rwandan journalist and blogger Tom Ndahiro cannot comprehend.

He told DW that "many people believe the six months were a delaying tactic introduced by SADC countries that sympathized with the rebels."

Ndahiro believes that it is naïve to believe that the rebels would give up voluntarily. Militias in the DRC are well organized and have acquired possessions. They have too much to lose.

Their strategy is also to mingle with the population making it difficult for their opponents to defeat them militarily. Ndahiro said that they are not simply criminals. "They are shrewd criminals and that makes them particular dangerous," he said.

The only possible goal is to reintegrate the rebels into Rwandan society, however difficult that may be. Both Ndahiro from Rwanda and Kavota from the DRC agree on this point.

In April, the Rwandan ambassador to Germany, Christine Nkulikiyinka, said that her country was, in principle, prepared to take this step and alluded to the reintegration program for rebels which has been in operation for ten years. "They, too, are Rwandans, but one would have to go to work on their ideology," she said.

In an interview with DW, the ambassador said the ex-fighters could be easily reintegrated once they had been given appropriate assistance.

They would first have to be prepared to be sent to camps in outlying regions of the DRC. This is hardly an enticing prospect.

The Kotakoli camp in Equateur province took in more than 900 people including former M23 rebels and their dependents a year ago.

On Wednesday (01.10.2014) the rights group Human Rights Watch reported that conditions in the camp were catastrophic. At least 100 camp inmates, including more than 50 children, had died either of hunger or disease. The rest were still in the camp after 12 months.

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