Congo: A Comprehensive Strategy to Disarm the FDLR

Congo: A Comprehensive Strategy to Disarm the FDLR

Africa Report N°151
9 July 2009

This report is only available in French

The joint Congo (DRC)-Rwanda military push against the Rwandan Hutu rebels has ended with scant results. Fifteen years after the Rwanda genocide and the establishment of those rebels in the eastern Congo, they have not yet been disarmed and remain a source of extreme violence against civilians. While they are militarily too weak to destabilise Rwanda, their 6,000 or more combatants, including a number of génocidaires, still present a major political challenge for consolidation of peace in the Great Lakes region. They must be disarmed and demobilised if the eastern Congo is to be stabilised.

That requires a new comprehensive strategy involving national, regional and international actors, with a clear division of labour and better coordination, so as to take advantage of the recent improvement of relations between the Congo and Rwanda, put an end to the enormous civilian suffering and restore state authority in the Congo’s eastern provinces. Its prominent components include:

Among the dozens of armed groups operating in the Kivus at the beginning of 2009, two had the highest military capabilities and caused the most civilian suffering: the Rwandan Hutus grouped under the Front démocratique pour la liberation du Rwanda (FDLR) and receiving some support from elements of the Congolese army, and Laurent Nkunda’s Tutsi-dominated Congrès national du peuple (CNDP), benefiting from Rwanda’s clandestine support. However, Nkunda’s personal ambition had alienated his Rwandan backers, while the total collapse of the Congolese army in front of the CNDP insurgency forced President Joseph Kabila to cut a deal with Paul Kagame, his counterpart in Kigali.

Their agreement was a significant shift of alliances in the region. In exchange for the removal of Nkunda by Kigali, Kinshasa agreed to a joint military operation against the FDLR on Congolese territory and to give key positions in the political and security institutions of the Kivus to CNDP representatives, while keeping MONUC out of the planning and implementation.

Operation “Umoja Wetu” (Our Unity) got under way on 20 January 2009. Three columns of the Rwandan army moved through North Kivu, seeking to root the rebel militia out of its main strongholds. Simultaneously the Congolese army deployed in the villages freed from FDLR control and set about to integrate combatants from the CNDP and other armed groups into its ranks. The FDLR avoided direct confrontations and dispersed in the Kivu forests. After 35 days, the results of the operation were much more modest than officially celebrated. The FDLR was only marginally and temporarily weakened in North Kivu and remained intact in South Kivu. Less than 500 FDLR combatants surrendered to MONUC to be demobilised in the first three months of 2009. Barely a month after the end of the operation, the rebels had regrouped and started to retaliate against civilians they believed had collaborated with “Umoja Wetu”.

Congo, Rwanda and MONUC have launched many initiatives for FDLR disarmament since 2002. On 9 November 2007, Kinshasa and Kigali started the Nairobi Communiqué Process, a framework for new bilateral collaboration backed by the international community that was to take care of the FDLR once and for all. But lack of goodwill and active collaboration as well as the resilience of the FDLR’s chain of command proved that traditional approaches to disarmament – whether forced or voluntary – and unilateral attempts by Congo to negotiate with the rebels could not succeed. Another lesson that should have been learned was that military action, psychological operations and informational campaigns aimed at drawing away the rebel rank and file are unlikely to produce good results unless the FDLR’s command and control structures can first be rendered ineffective, and all efforts are carefully coordinated and sequenced.

Since the Congolese national army and MONUC lack the capacity and political will to carry out an effective military operation to dismantle the FDLR chain of command, continuation of Congo-Rwanda military collaboration is also essential. The immediate priority is not a new military offensive, however – each military failure increases the suffering of ordinary Congolese. A new offensive – “Kimia II” – conducted by the Congolese national army and MONUC is currently underway. Far from disrupting the FDLR, it has failed to prevent FDLR retaliation against civilians and should be suspended. Containing, not overwhelming, the rebels and protecting civilians should be the priority, while additional resources are sought and coordination between willing partners is forged for a new kind of disarmament attempt.

A comprehensive strategy has to be developed, involving the Congo government, Rwanda, MONUC and the other international facilitators that joined in Nairobi declaration, including the African Union, the U.S. and the EU. Their political and operational inputs should be coordinated in a new FDLR disarmament mechanism that should plan both military measures and informational campaigns, as well as prepare the ground for judicial processes in the countries where FDLR political leaders have sought refuge and from which they spread the propaganda that is an important part of the hold they maintain over ordinary fighters. Without such additional efforts and new international momentum, the population of the Kivu will continue to bear the brunt of the FDLR’s presence and of the failed attempts to disarm them, and the fragile Congolese state will remain at risk.


To the Government of Congo:

1.  Suspend operation “Kimia II” and refrain from any further military offensive against the FDLR at this time, shifting priority to protecting the Kivu population against FDLR attacks and reprisals by establishing protected areas close to rebel-held territory and controlling major roads day and night.

2.  Participate in the planning and implementation of a new FDLR disarmament strategy as described below.

3.  Actively pursue normal relations with Rwanda, notably by establishing cross-border development projects within the framework of the Economic Community of the Great Lakes Countries and by jointly analysing the region’s traumatic history within the framework of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), so as to foster reconciliation between Congolese and Rwandans.


4.  Reinforce the training given FARDC brigades and assign military mentors to Congolese units.

5.  Insert civilian specialists into the joint FARDC-MONUC military planning unit and facilitate the design of civil-military cooperation projects aimed at protecting civilians and building confidence between civilians and Congolese security forces.

6.  Ensure the 3,000 reinforcements authorised by UN Security Council Resolution 1853 are speedily deployed in eastern Congo.

7.  Reinforce the Disarmament, Demobilisation, Repatriation, Reintegration and Resettlement (DDRRR) section with specialists in intelligence and psychological operations, as well as legal experts who can develop cases for prosecution of crimes committed during the Congo’s violent conflicts.

To the members of the international facilitation of the Nairobi communiqué (AU, EU, U.S., UN):

8.  Establish a mechanism for strategic management of FDLR disarmament and demobilisation composed of military and civilian MONUC personnel, Congolese and Rwandan officials, specialists from facilitation countries, and liaison officers with Interpol, the International Criminal Court and the World Bank, to formulate a new FDLR disarmament strategy and to coordinate the activities of all international entities – military and civilian – involved in its implementation. This strategy should include:

a)  intensive counter-propaganda and other sophisticated psychological operations targeting the FDLR rank and file for voluntary disarmament;

b)  offers of third country relocation to those who do not wish to return to Rwanda or settle in Congo;

c)  action within the scope of national laws to limit the ability of the FDLR political leadership living in countries such as France, Belgium, Germany, the U.S., Canada, Cameroon, Zambia and Kenya to operate freely, including, where such a possibility exists under their domestic law, investigation and prosecution of leadership members for complicity in war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in eastern Congo;

d)  selection and training of eight battalions of the Congolese national army (the FARDC) dedicated to cordon and search operations in support of special forces operations, with offensive military actions against the FDLR not to be undertaken before this training is completed and a clear military doctrine has been established for the force; and

e)     operations by Rwandan special forces focusing on neutralising the FDLR command and control structure.

To the Government of Rwanda:

9.  Participate in the planning and implementation of a new FDLR disarmament strategy as described above.

10.  Submit a revised list of FDLR leaders suspected of participation in the 1994 genocide.

11.  Take part in technical discussions under the auspices of UN Special Envoy Obasanjo with FDLR officers not included in the list with respect to the conditions of their repatriation or relocation under international supervision.

12.  Actively pursue normal relations with the DRC, notably by establishing cross-border development projects within the framework of the Economic Community of the Great Lakes Countries and by jointly analysing the region’s traumatic history within the framework of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), so as to foster reconciliation between Congolese and Rwandans.

Nairobi/Brussels, 9 July 2009

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