FDLR rebels in recruitment drive ahead of UN offensive

Latest report says that the rebels are acquiring weapons from DRC soldiers instead of disarming

FDLR rebels surrender in DR Congo on May 30, 2014. Latest report claims that the rebels are acquiring weapons from DRC soldiers instead of disarming. AFP PHOTO | JEAN-BAPTISTE BADHERA 

BY GAAKI KIGAMBO and KEVIN J KELLEY, The EastAfrican

IN SUMMARY

  • FDLR are also building military alliances with several other militias in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
  • Report further accuses the Congolese government, which is supposed to lead the assault against the group, of aiding the recruitment.
  • The group, which Rwanda accuses of organising and conducting the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, has stepped up its recruitment in refugee settlements, from where it draws the majority of its fighting force.

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Just six weeks to the deadline by when they should have fully disarmed, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda are instead in a rush to regroup, recruit and mobilise political support in readiness for the anticipated military offensive by the UN special force.

A new report by the non-governmental organisation Enough Project says FDLR are also building military alliances with several other militias in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

The report further accuses the Congolese government, which is supposed to lead the assault against the group, of aiding the recruitment.

The Congolese army is the group’s major source of arms and ammunition supplies and intelligence. The report claims that FDLR pays for the arms either with cash earned through sale of illegally produced charcoal at Virunga National Park or gold.

As such, any effort to defeat the group depend on the Congolese government’s co-operation.

This, the report says, should work in tandem with regional diplomacy to repair relations between Rwanda, Tanzania and South Africa, misunderstandings among whom have at times hampered decisive action against FDLR; suppressing the group’s economic lifelines; targeting tough sanctions against its senior leaders and stepping up efforts to apprehend them.

READ: Kigali alleges ‘hidden agenda’ to protect FDLR

“The FDLR’s current strategy is focused on reorganising itself in three main areas: Generating more income to trade for ammunition and weapons; mobilising political support in an attempt to gain greater legitimacy; and preparing to avoid military defeat through alliance-building and recruitment,” says the report.

The group, which Rwanda accuses of organising and conducting the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, has stepped up its recruitment in refugee settlements, from where it draws the majority of its fighting force.

It has increased charcoal burning and trading in the Virunga National Park, a major source of revenue alongside gold mining around the same area. It is also improving its co-ordination and collaboration with political groupings opposed to the regime in Kigali that.

READ: Illegal trade in wildlife, timber funding militias

This strategy, however, is not entirely inconsistent with its longtime pattern of responding to military pressure: Promising to disarm.

For instance, in April and August this year, FDLR publicly committed to disarm but only turned in 186 mostly frail members of its estimated 1,500 combatants and old, rusty weapons.

It appears now there is new sense of urgency born of a realisation that the group may no longer enjoy the full patronage of its backers in the face of consistent, uniform and tougher international and regional messages against its continued existence as an armed group.

Its backers had succeeded in keeping off this military offensive for as long as frontline power brokers like the UN Security Council, the Southern African Development Community, the East African Community read from different pages on how to tackle them.

“Following various messages to disarm soon or face military action by the UN Security Council, ICGLR defence ministers, and a committee of regional ambassadors who visited FDLR leaders in August, several FDLR leaders expressed a lowering of expectations,” notes the report.

On November 5, the UN Security Council expressed displeasure over the lack of progress in the voluntary disarmament process of the FDLR.

It reiterated its January 2, 2015 deadline for this exercise beyond which a military offensive will be the next course of action. 

READ: FDLR strikes loom as UN says ‘no further delay’

“The Security Council calls on Monusco and the DRC government to immediately update operational plans for military action that should begin no later than January against the FDLR,” said the Council’s presidential statement.

“The swift neutralisation of the FDLR is a top priority in bringing stability to and protecting the civilians of the DRC and the Great Lakes region,” it added.

The military offensive, if or when it happens, is unlikely to be swift, though. The group has perfected the skill of dissolving into smaller groups whenever it faces military attack. It is part of its guerrilla warfare hit-and-run tactics, the Enough report said. Moreover, it tends to conceal itself by embedding itself in the civilian population.

UN force

Military leaders of the UN force in the DRC have repeatedly vowed to destroy FDLR.

But South Africa and Tanzania — the countries that supply most of the troops in the UN combat force — appear reluctant to launch an attack on the rebels.
Enough project researcher Sasha Lezhnev said the UN brigade, including its Tanzania and South African components, will take their cues from the government of President Joseph Kabila.

If President Kabila agrees to an attack on a group that has been allied with the DRC military, the UN is likely to take action after the January 2 deadline, Mr Lezhnev said in an interview.

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