Global Policy Forum

Congo Rebel Group Weakening, Could Cease Threat-UN

According to the UN Envoy, the FDLR has been significantly weakened and could be losing its capacity to destabilize eastern Congo. But even if the FDLR is dismantled, other armed groups are still active in the region. While a reduced presence of the FDLR might make observers hopeful that Congo is becoming more secure, the UN has said that it has no plans to pull out its peacekeeping force until the situation on the ground has improved.



By Patrick Worsnip

February 7, 2011

The most important rebel group in the lawless east of the Democratic Republic of Congo is weakening and the threat it poses could ultimately disappear, the U.N. envoy to the country said on Monday.

Judicial action in Europe against leaders of the group, Security Council sanctions and a U.N.-backed military drive by the Congolese army have taken a toll on the Rwandan Hutu FDLR, envoy Roger Meece told the council.

There were "internal strains and operational problems" in the rebel group and an increasing number of senior officers were opting for repatriation to neighboring Rwanda, where the government runs centers for ex-fighters, Meece said.

"It is certainly premature to assert that the FDLR is collapsing, but the group's capacity is diminishing," he said. "For the first time ... I believe the outlines can be seen of an eventual resolution of this long-standing threat to the population of the region."

Founded in 2000, the FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda) is made up of Hutus from Rwanda who fled to Congo after the 1994 genocide in which some 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed.

Widely accused of being led by those who carried out the genocide, the FDLR played a major role in a 1998-2003 conflict in eastern Congo in which more than five million people died, and has continued killings and rapes. It was blamed for the rape of more than 300 victims in one village last August.

According to the International Crisis Group, the group had around 15,000 guerrillas in 2001 but the number dwindled to some 6,000-7,000 by late 2007. U.N. experts recently put its strength at about 3,500.

One of its leaders, Callixte Mbarushimana, was arrested in France last November and transferred to the International Criminal Court in The Hague last month. Another, Ignace Murwanashyaka, was charged in Germany with war crimes in December. Meece said this had demoralized FDLR forces.


But Meece, a former U.S. ambassador to Congo, acknowledged that the FDLR was only one of several brutal rebel groups in the area. Others include the Mai-Mai -- former government militias -- and the Ugandan Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). The Congolese army itself has also been accused of atrocities.

The LRA was "still a major threat," Meece said, urging a continued focus on its elusive leader, Joseph Kony, who he said had been outside of Congo in recent months.

Meece nevertheless said he believed Congo was on the road to "security and stable conditions." The Security Council, however, in a statement after the meeting, expressed "deep concerns about the persistent high levels of insecurity, violence and human rights abuses."

The statement also voiced concern at the recent promotion of Congolese army personnel involved in "serious human rights violations and crimes."

Congo's government had at one time been suggesting the U.N. peacekeeping force in the country, MONUSCO, should pull out this year, which marks the 50th anniversary of Congo's independence. Such a move was opposed by some Western governments, U.N. officials and advocacy groups.

The U.N. force shed some 1,700 personnel last year and now has just over 19,000 troops and police. But Meece said there were no immediate plans for further reductions.

"The (Security) Council has been fairly explicit, and the Congolese government certainly has specifically agreed, that the future depends ... on conditions on the ground," he told reporters. "There is no action in terms of a withdrawal that is on the table or being contemplated."






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