Rwanda and Tanzania have clashed over the planned military action against the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), who have ignored the January 2 deadline to disarm.
The conflict between the two countries could result in a divisive outcome in a regional meeting — to take place in Luanda, Angola — to discuss what action should be taken against the rebels.
While Rwanda sees military action as the only viable option, Tanzania says such action would not be justified until the Democratic Republic of Congo government identifies the insurgents, disarms them and calls in the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to repatriate them to Rwanda in line with an accord reached in the Unites States last September.
“As we speak, most of these resolutions have not been applied. Thus, as a country we won’t be ready to join any combined attack against the rebels because not all people in eastern DR Congo are FDRL rebels,” said Bernard Membe, Tanzania’s Minister for Foreign Affairs. He said isolation of the rebels scattered in eastern DR Congo was essential to maintaining peace in the region.
“If Congo will not use its security forces to identify the Rwandans and get them deported to their respective destinations, Tanzania will for the first time not comply with the UN directive to take immediate military action against the rebels,” he said.
Mr Membe pointed out that although Tanzania had in the past deployed its soldiers to fight against M23 rebels, the FDLR situation was different. “The M23 rebels were in uniforms, lived in camps and had troop vehicles as opposed to the FDLR rebels,” he said.
Speaking in Kigali last Friday, Rwanda’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Louise Mushikiwabo said FDLR was a threat to regional security and should be dealt with collectively and urgently. “There is no other way at this point, to get rid of this genocidal militia without military action,” said Ms Mushikiwabo.
Without directly referring to Tanzania and others opposed to military action, Ms Mushikiwabo said leaders of regional countries should realise that the rebels had been given more than 20 years to conform.
“We are not naïve to some of the support given to FDLR by some leaders in the region, but I think it is time to take responsibility. We have no need for further resolutions or to repeat ourselves,” said Ms Mushikiwabo.
A two-day Joint Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) is scheduled for January 15, to assess the voluntary disarmament of the FDLR and to decide on appropriate action.
South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma, who is the chair of the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Co-operation, said FDLR did not comply with the deadline, with only 337 rebel fighters — about a tenth of the estimated force — having disarmed since May 2014.
“The FDLR has up to date not complied in full with the conditions imposed by the Heads of State and Government of SADC and the ICGLR,” said President Zuma. He reiterated the blocs’ commitment to its “internationally mandated” objective of neutralising all “negative forces” operating in the DR Congo, including the FDLR.
Under pressure to act on the Rwandan rebels, President Joseph Kabila announced last week that government forces will force the Rwandan rebels out of their positions.
President Kabila made the pledge to the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the phone, promising that government forces are ready to help the United Nations force fight the rebels, who have been living in the jungles of eastern DR Congo for the past 20 years.
The United Nations peacekeeping force in Congo (Monusco) claims it has started to prepare for a major shelling of FDLR positions.
“The UN Secretary-General called for decisive action against the armed group. He welcomed the president’s assurance that his government was ready to take action and said that Monusco was ready to engage with the (Congolese army),” said Mr Ban’s press office in a statement.
However, Rwanda remains pessimistic that action will be taken against the rebels who are said to number between 1,500 and 3,000.
In a recent statement released by the FDLR president Victor Byiringiro, the rebels blamed the UN for letting them down, claiming that their efforts to disarm voluntarily were not supported by the body and the DR Congo government even after they reported to disarmament camps.
The rebels asked for more time to develop trust and disarm voluntarily, as well as engage in “dialogue to return home with dignity” — an option Kigali has ruled out.
Recently, the US urged its partners in the eastern DR Congo to launch attacks on the FDLR, which did not comply with the January 2 deadline to disarm.
Russell Feingold, US special envoy for the Great Lakes region and the DR Congo said that the surrender of about 150 fighters “does not come close” to meeting the January 2 deadline for complete demobilisation of the FDLR.