The UN Security Council has said that there should be “no further delay” in the disarmament of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) rebels.
The UNSC pronounced this position in a presidential statement issued on Wednesday ahead of the January 2 deadline for the Rwandan rebels, who are based in the jungles of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, to disarm and repatriate voluntarily.
“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,” the statement reads.
However, challenges in repatriation of the rebels abound as they are reluctant to lay down arms, with Kigali alleging that the militants are, instead, receiving more support.
Officials of the Rwanda Demobilisation and Reintegration Commission (RDRC), which is charged with welcoming FDLR returnees, allege that support for the rebel group is increasing.
Jean Sayinzoga, the chairman of RDRC, alleged that some regional states and several high-ranking members of the Congolese army — the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC) — continue to support the rebels by supplying them with ammunitions and other logistics.
“There are strong reasons to believe that the FDLR will not disarm and repatriate voluntarily because they continue to enjoy considerable support from some countries and FARDC,” Mr Sayinzoga said.
There are also concerns that, due to the income of about $70 million that the FDLR generates from mines, taxation and trade in timber, disarmament might not materialise.
Although experts believe the remaining number of rebels is between 2,000 and 3,000, which would be a small number to deal with, the powers supposedly behind the rebel group pose a great uncertainty of disarmament and repatriation.
According to Mr Sayinzoga, the support rendered to the rebels hinders the repatriation plan, which, in essence, leaves regional countries and the UN with only one option: use of force.
“The rebel force is split into two with one part willing to repatriate but obstructed by another section of ideologists who think they will return to Rwanda fighting and will win the war,” Mr Sayinzoga said.
He added that there are two camps in eastern Congo — Kanyabayonga in the north and Warungu in the south — that have close to 500 willing repatriates.
“In the camps, we have seen some people who want to come home but others were still hampered by ideologies instilled by their leaders,” he added, citing an incident during the last visit where a section of the group pretended to have laid down arms only to later resume fighting.
As to whether Rwanda was ready to reintegrate the rebels, Mr Sayinzoga said that, considering the number involved, one centre can accommodate the surrendering militants.
While the RDRC maintains adequate capacity to receive and serve the rebels, their repatriation is dependent on what transpires across the border.
The disarmament and repatriation of armed groups has mainly been handled by Monusco, the UN Mission in Congo, with a UNSC mandate.
According to Monusco chief Martin Kobler, the force is ready to eliminate the rebels if they fail to disarm in accordance with the deadline.
At the latest UNSC sitting on the FDLR issue, however, Mr Kobler was quick to add that Monusco has a moral imperative to defend civilians from depredations by the FDLR and other rogue elements in the Congo, hence the delays in the attacks.
In response, however, Rwanda’s permanent representative to the UN Eugene Gasana dismissed Monusco’s claim that it failed to attack the FDLR militarily because they mingle with the public when shelled.
“This is not true,” Mr Gasana said. “We provided Monusco with extensive evidence of the location of FDLR military camps that are away from civilians.”
In collaboration with regional and international stakeholders, including Monusco, the commission has been carrying out cross-border sensitisation campaigns for armed groups in eastern Congo with a view to persuading them to leave the jungles and return to their respective countries.