US now urges UN to attack FDLR rebels

Saturday January 3 2015

US Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region,

US Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region, Russell Feingold. PHOTO | FILE AFP

By KEVIN J KELLEY

The United States has urged its partners in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo to make good their threat to launch attacks on the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, which did not comply with the January 2 deadline to disarm.

Russell Feingold, US special envoy for the Great Lakes region and the DRC (pictured), said the country “stands ready” to lend support to a United Nations combat force and the Congolese army in the military action without disclosing what form such support may take.

He declared that  “military action should take place” against FDLR, saying the recent surrender of about 150 fighters “does not come close” to meeting the January 2 deadline. The ultimatum was for complete demobilisation of FDLR, which the envoy said was linked to “some of the worst crimes in human history.”

Mr Feingold cited estimates that the FDLR had about 1,400 members prior to last week’s surrender. And the US has “reason to believe the FDLR is still recruiting.” He expressed confidence that the 3,000-member UN combat force in eastern DRC would carry out its planned mission.

Reports have suggested that South Africa and Tanzania, the main troop-contributing countries to the UN force, are reluctant to attack the FDLR due in part to their uneasy relations with Rwanda, which would benefit from elimination of elements that had taken part in the 1994 genocide.

“We have received repeated reassurances from stakeholder countries regarding their willingness to carry out their commitment to strike the FDLR,” Mr Feingold said. He noted that the UN brigade and Congolese army had last year jointly attacked and defeated M23 rebels.

Expressing his own frustration with the year-and-a-half-long effort to persuade the FDLR to disarm, the special envoy said there must be no extensions of the January 2 deadline. The group accused of repeated human rights abuses in eastern DRC has been given “ample time” to lay down its arms, Mr Feingold said.

He also ruled out negotiations with what he called “an illegitimate armed group.” A meeting in June with FDLR representatives was intended only to make clear that the group’s “only options were to surrender or be militarily defeated,” he noted.

Youland Bouka, a researcher with the Institute for Security Studies in charge of the Great Lakes Region and Central Africa, argued that there is consensus among regional actors that the FDLR needs to be neutralised in order to make headway towards the stabilisation of eastern DRC.

Dr Bouka noted that the African Union, Southern African Development Community and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR)  all agree that there will be no extension to the January 2 ultimatum to voluntarily disarm.

“In recent months, all these actors have been very active in engaging in high stakes meetings, monitoring the situation and pressuring the FDLR to abide by the law,” said Dr Bouka.

Additional Reporting by Fred Oluoch