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Unease in Kigali over Kikwete’s call for talks with FDLR

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FDLR soldiers in 2009. The rebels remain a security headache for Rwanda. Photo/FILE

FDLR soldiers in 2009. The rebels remain a security headache for Rwanda. Photo/FILE 

By GAAKI KIGAMBO Special Correspondent

Posted  Saturday, June 8   2013 at  09:53

In Summary

  • The FDLR is a sensitive issue in Kigali because of its role in the 1994 genocide as well as the continual security threats it poses to Rwanda.
  • Although the inspiration for President Kikwete’s remarks remains unclear, regional observers have begun linking them to events surrounding the arrest of Gen Stanislas Nzeyimana aka Bigaruka Izabayo, a top FDLR commander.
  • As the story is told, Gen Nzeyimana went to Tanzania apparently on the invitation of elements within Tanzania’s military for consultations regarding the deployment of the Tanzanian component of the would-be intervention brigade.
  • Kigali has insisted it won’t talk to any entity that still harbours genocide ideologies and plans to carry out another genocide.

The bitter exchange of words between Kigali and Dar over the past two weeks is a pointer to longstanding subterranean tensions between the two countries.

The spat, an unexpected setback for regional diplomacy, was triggered a fortnight ago after Tanzania’s President Jakaya Kikwete suggested that Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame consider direct talks with rebels of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).

He also urged Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni to talk to the Allied Democratic Forces and the National Army for the Liberation of Uganda, as well as asking DR Congo’s President Joseph Kabila to talk to the M23 rebels and other forces that have established havens in eastern Congo.

President Kikwete raised the issue of dialogue with the FDLR and the other armed groups during a special meeting of Heads of State from the Great Lakes Region in Addis Ababa.

It had been convened by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on the sidelines of the 21st AU Summit to discuss the Regional Oversight Mechanism of the Peace, Security and Co-operation Framework for the DRC and the region.

The FDLR is a sensitive issue in Kigali because of its role in the 1994 genocide as well as the continual security threats it poses to Rwanda, even if, according to Defence Minister Gen James Kabarebe, its strength has been significantly cut down from 150,000 to 2,000 people.

The Kagame regime is also unhappy with what it feels is the “flippant” manner in which the international community has treated the issue.

“Appreciation in the region and beyond of what happened in Rwanda in 1994 is unequal. The sad fact is that people forget and people would like to forget what happened in Rwanda, in particular,” one source told The EastAfrican.

The US blacklisted FDLR as a terrorist organisation in 2005, nearly 10 years after the genocide. In April this year, it added its overall commander Sylvestre Mudacumura to its war crimes programme, under which it offers up to $5 million for information leading to the arrest of designated foreign nationals accused of crimes against humanity, genocide, or war crimes.

While the Kagame administration sees the FDLR as the last holdout of the people responsible for orchestrating the 1994 genocide in which Rwanda lost up to a million lives, it suspects that Tanzania, where many of the suspects initially fled, is indifferent to the threat they pose to Rwanda’s long-term security.

Although the inspiration for President Kikwete’s remarks remains unclear, regional observers have begun linking them to events surrounding the arrest of Gen Stanislas Nzeyimana aka Bigaruka Izabayo, a top FDLR commander.

As the story is told, Gen Nzeyimana went to Tanzania apparently on the invitation of elements within Tanzania’s military for consultations regarding the deployment of the Tanzanian component of the would-be intervention brigade.

While there, intelligence operatives picked him up as he was out visiting friends in Dar, mistaking him for Mudacumura, FDLR’s overall commander, who carries a $5 million bounty on his head.

Upon clarification that he wasn’t Mudacumura, Gen. Nzeyimana was set free. It is then claimed that agents from Rwanda’s Directorate of Military Intelligence abducted him as he crossed through Kigoma en route to eastern Congo through Burundi.

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