Saturday, February 28, 2009

North Kivu: The Rwandan troops are pulling out

By Marie-France Cros
February 25, 2009

Also available in French: - Nord-Kivu : les Rwandais se retirent

An official ceremony on Wednesday February 25, 2009 marked the withdrawal of the Rwandan troops from eastern DRC. The official mission of this joint military operation which was to forcibly disarm the FDLR is far from being fulfilled even though Kinshasa and Kigali seem to be satisfied with some gains. But many doubts still reign over the sustainability of these so-called “gains”.


On Wednesday February 25, 2009, according to Congolese authorities, an official ceremony was held to mark the end of the joint military operation Rwandan-Congolese in North Kivu, and therefore the withdrawal of the Rwandan troops from the Congolese territory.

Only one-tenth of the initial goal was fulfilled

Initially, the goal was to forcibly disarm and repatriate the FDLR combatants (Rwandan Hutu rebels) who have been operating in eastern Congo for a decade. The FDLR rebels primarily terrorize local populations but may in the long term pose a serious threat to the Rwandan regime if the situation was to deteriorate.

While the number of the FDLR rebels is estimated at 6,500 fighters, the joint military operation has managed to disarm 375 and repatriate them to Rwanda, along with approximately 600 members of their families. Some other 2,000 Rwandans living in Congo (legally or not) also decided to be repatriated by the UN.

In addition to this so-called "success", it is estimated that between 100 and 200 FDLR rebels have been killed during the operation. In total, 500 to 600 FDLR fighters have been neutralized, i.e. less than one tenth of the FDLR rebels total number. The 6,000 remaining FDLR combatants have temporarily disappeared in the jungle, until the storm passes. Owing to the Congolese public opinion - which cannot stand the fact that the Rwandan soldiers, the strenuous enemies of the past, were allowed to legally enter in Congo - Kinshasa was forced to limit to five weeks the duration of the operation. This duration was deemed too short by the Rwandan parliament.

Another "success" of the operation is the disruption of the FDLR rebels in North Kivu. Many of their abandoned camps were destroyed during the joint military operation. It is believed that the FDLR rebels may soon rebuild these camps once the danger has passed. But at what cost to the local populations?

In addition, the Congolese army, thanks to the joint military operation, was restored in several Congolese localities that were previously considered as the FDLR strong holds.

Will the Congolese army be able to keep strong hold on these localities? One should recall that last fall the offensive against the CNDP rebels of Nkunda has led to the defeat of the Congolese army, hence its weakness.

A failure with some gains

One can therefore conclude that the joint operation has failed. But with a closer look into the operation, both Kinshasa and Kigali have some reasons to be satisfied with it.

For instance, Kinshasa is free of Laurent Nkunda, who was arrested in Rwanda after being caught in a trap. Kinshasa still awaits Nkunda’s extradition to DRC but the process is so slow and the two capitals have many reasons to enjoy the status quo. Mostly Kigali because the idea of delivering Nkunda to Kinshasa is very badly perceived in the ranks of the Rwandan army. Indeed, Nkunda helped the RPF to take power in Rwanda in 1993-1994. But also Kinshasa because a Nkunda’s trial in Congo could be very destabilizing: how can one explain that Nkunda should be prosecuted for the Kisangani massacres committed in May 2002 and not his boss at that time, General Gabriel Amisi, the current commander of the Congolese Army in Kinshasa?

Most importantly, thanks to the joint military operation that helped Rwanda to demonstrate to the international community that Kigali was not an accomplice of Nkunda. In late 2008, the publication of an expert report of the UN has prompted the suspension of part of the aid from the Netherlands and Sweden to the current regime in Kigali. Both Rwanda and DRC depend on foreign aid for half their budget.

The epitome of the irony is that due to Kigali’s pressure a new leadership was installed to replace Nkunda as the head of the CNDP. This movement is now led by Desire Kamanzi who is negotiating the integration of his men into the Congolese army. Major problems still remain though: Up to date, only half of the CNDP rebels are prone to integration. Obviously, the peace process in the region remains unpredictable. Time will tell.


Related materials:
Congo, Rwanda Call Joint Offensive a Success -

On Tuesday February 24, 2009 negotiations began in Nairobi, under the UN mediation, with regard to an accord that might have recently been reached by the Kinshasa and the new direction of the CNDP – whose influence on the CNDP rebels remains unknown- disrupted by the latest dissidence of his military commander, Bosco Ntaganda in late 2008 and the arrest of its leader, Laurent Nkunda in early 2009. It is believed that the text is more likely calling for the integration of the CNDP rebels into the Congolese army and the creation of multiple “buffer” zones. This integration has already begun but the CNDP leadership has only provided half of its troops. In addition, confusion still reigns as to whether this accord also applies to other armed groups in eastern DRC i.e. Mai Mai and Pareco. The later are partly component of the FDLR.


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