Global Policy Forum

Congo Agrees with Rwanda to Disarm Hutu Rebels


By Joe Bavier

November 11, 2007

Congo has reached a deal with Rwanda to forcibly disarm Rwandan Hutu rebels on its soil in an effort to reduce tensions with its central African neighbour, a joint statement said on Sunday. The Hutu rebels, including former Rwandan soldiers (ex-FAR) and members of the Interahamwe militia, are among several armed groups continuing to destabilise eastern Democratic Republic of Congo even after the end of a broader 1998-2003 war.

More than 370,000 people have fled fighting between Congolese government soldiers, Tutsi-dominated insurgents and Rwandan Hutu rebels -- accused by Kigali of involvement in Rwanda's 1994 genocide -- since the start of the year. "The government of Democratic Republic of Congo commits to launch military operations as a matter of urgency to dismantle the ex-FAR Interahamwe as a genocidal military organisation in the DRC," the countries said in a joint statement.

The agreement followed a meeting in Nairobi between the Congolese and Rwandan foreign ministers. Under the terms of the deal, Congo will prepare a detailed plan by Dec. 1, with the backing of the country's United Nations peacekeeping mission, to disarm the rebels. Kigali promised to share with Congo and the United Nations a list of individuals it accuses of orchestrating the 1994 genocide, in which an estimated 800,000 Rwandan Tutsis and moderate Hutus were massacred.

Rwandan Foreign Minister Charles Murigande also agreed to seal his country's border with Congo and ensure illegal armed groups -- particularly a Tutsi insurgency led by renegade General Laurent Nkunda -- do not receive cross-border support. Rwanda has long accused the Congolese government of harbouring the rebels, now known as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).

Congo's army has meanwhile been battling Nkunda's forces in the troubled North Kivu province since late August, when the rebel leader abandoned a January peace deal and pulled thousands of his fighters out of special mixed army brigades. Army commanders in Congo have accused Rwanda of backing Nkunda, who led two army brigades into the bush in 2004 claiming he was doing so to protect eastern Congo's small Tutsi minority.

Fears of War

The continued presence in eastern Congo of the FDLR, who fled across the border after the Rwandan genocide, was used by Rwanda to justify two military interventions. The second, in 1998, helped unleash a five-year war that killed an estimated 4 million people, mainly through hunger and disease. Fears that the current crisis in North Kivu could worsen into another Congo war have spawned intense diplomatic pressure in recent weeks to find a peaceful solution. Both the United States and United Nations have sent top level officials to the border province this month.

As part of the deal agreed in Nairobi, which was also signed by U.N., U.S. and European Union diplomats, Congo said it would arrest and hand over to Rwanda any individuals indicted for genocide, war crimes, or crimes against humanity. FDLR fighters who choose to disarm, and are not believed to be targeted by Rwandan indictments, will be moved away from areas along Congo's border with Rwanda until their status is normalised, according to the plan.

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