Kikwete’s plea for peace talks angers Rwanda

Saturday June 1 2013

By EDMUND KAGIRE The EastAfrican

The suggestion Tanzania President Jakaya Kikwete that Kigali hold talks with the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) has angered Rwanda.

During a meeting on the sidelines of the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, President Kikwete urged his Rwandan and Ugandan counterparts to talk to the “negative forces” operating in the jungles of eastern DR Congo to help the region achieve permanent peace.

Rwanda accused the Tanzanian leader of expressing sympathy for the forces responsible for the 1994 genocide. Foreign Affairs Minister Louise Mushikiwabo said it was “shocking” for any leader to suggest that the government hold talks with the rebels.

“Those who think that Rwanda should sit down at the negotiating table with FDLR simply don’t know what they are talking about,” Ms Mushikiwabo said, describing the FDLR as “terrorists.”

President Kikwete believes that governments in the region, including DR Congo, should negotiate with rebel groups to resolve their issues and end conflicts in the region.

The Rwandan rebel group, composed of the remnants of the Interahamwe militia, has been accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including rape, recruitment of child soldiers and engaging in illegal trade of minerals inside DRC.

At the summit in Addis Ababa, President Paul Kagame did not respond to the suggestion. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said his government “can only talk to those willing.” Two Ugandan rebel groups, the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) and Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), have a presence in the DRC.

The Rwanda genocide survivors group Ibuka equated President Kikwete’s suggestion to urging the US government to negotiate with Al Qaeda.

“As genocide survivors, we are deeply hurt by President Kikwete’s remarks. Suggesting that we sit down and talk with the people who killed our families is not only out of order but an indication for his sympathy for FDLR,” said Dr Jean Pierre Dusingizemungu, the president of Ibuka.

The association also petitioned US President Barack Obama not to visit Dar es Salaam unless President Kikwete retracts his statement.

But another group calling itself Rwandan Dream Youth, mainly composed of Rwandans in exile, welcomed President Kikwete’s idea, urging the government to talk to the DR Congo-based rebels.

“We wish to ask the UN to support President Kikwete’s suggestion and call for negotiations between the Rwandan government and the FDLR in order to put an end to the suffering caused by two decades conflict,” the group said.

“The settlement of the FDLR issue is an absolute prerequisite to secure stability in the east of Congo. In order to achieve and sustain peaceful cohabitation between DRC and Rwanda, it is crucial to address, once for all, the issue of the Rwandan refugees, who are still in Congo.”

Tanzania is a contributor to the UN 3,000-strong intervention brigade that is expected to wipe out the “negative forces” operating inside DRC, including FDLR. Rwanda has opposed the force.