President Joseph Kabila will not declare military action against Rwandan rebels in eastern Congo until he gets express permission from a joint special summit of two regional groupings.
Norbert Ezadri, the clerk of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s National Assembly, told The EastAfrican that the Congo leader wants the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) to endorse the offensive despite the Rwandan rebels having disregarded the January 2 deadline to disarm.
“President Kabila cannot issue an unilateral order to enforce UN Security Council Resolution 2147 until the two organisations endorse it at a special summit,” said Mr Ezadri.
President Kabila, who is dealing with discontent in the country over his decision to call for a national census close to the elections, was hoping that the endorsement would be forthcoming at the joint SADC-ICGLR summit, which was scheduled for January 19 in Luanda, Angola. The summit was, however, cancelled and no reason was given. It is not clear when it will be held.
Angola, which chairs the ICGLR-SADC summit, has said it does not see the need for the FDLR military offensive to continue being on the agenda after the deadline to disarm passed.
This is the first time that the Congo government has spoken on why it has not declared military action against the Rwanda rebels. This has left regional and international partners guessing, despite the United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Monusco) and the Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) being militarily ready to act.
The DRC charge d’affaires in Nairobi, Mubare Bizimungu, had earlier told The EastAfrican that Kinshasa would act according to the United Nations Security Council resolution. He, however, said he had not been briefed on when the government is likely to give the green light for military action against FDLR.
The Congo military, together with Monusco and FIB — comprising 3,000 troops from South Africa, Tanzania and Malawi — have the task of neutralising “negative forces” in eastern DRC.
In bed with the rebels?
Mr Ezadri, who belongs to the Social Movement for Renewal party (MSR), which is in coalition with President Kabila’s government, denied claims by Rwanda that some elements in the Congolese army support the rebels. This, Rwanda alleged, had made it difficult for President Kabila to declare war on FDLR.
“This is propaganda because the Congo people are eagerly waiting for the eradication of the negative forces in eastern Congo that continue to rape, kill and loot our resources. Furthermore, we have to understand that military strategies are normally secret and kept away from the public.
But Wilson Kajwengye, the director, peace and security at ICGLR, said that it is just a matter of time before FDLR is attacked and forced to surrender. Mr Kajwengye was speaking on behalf of the ICGLR executive secretary Prof Ntumba Luaba, at a forum of the body’s parliamentarians in Nairobi.
“It is not only that FDLR has refused to surrender, they still commit human rights violations against innocent civilians of DRC and are still engaged in illegal exploitation of resources,” he said.
Mr Kajwengye noted that by January 20 — more than two weeks after the deadline — fewer than 350 FDLR rebels had surrendered. Those who surrendered are in Bahuma Camp in Kisangani and the few who are still in Walungu and Kanyabayonga in South and North Kivu will be taken to Kisangani to await repatriation to Rwanda.
Mr Kajwengye added that FDLR’s offer to voluntarily disarm in May last year was forced upon them by the military operations against M23 and later the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) that are fighting the Uganda government from eastern DRC in collaboration with the National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (NALU).
Monusco head Martin Kobler is on record saying that the forces are ready to launch an attack any time as long as it is in agreement with authorities in Kinshasa. On January 22, after a Security Council meeting focused on the DRC, the UN special envoy reiterated his statement.
“We are ready to go,” Mr Kobler said. “Our troops are pre-deployed, and this is the case with the FARDC [Congolese armed forces].
Mr Kobler and UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous both emphasised that they want the combat brigade to act in concert with the DRC army and to follow the lead of President Kabila.
But even as it prepares to launch a major combat operation in the eastern DRC, the UN is planning to withdraw 2,000 of the 20,000 troops that make up its military mission in the sprawling and fractured country. That move is being made in response to President Kabila’s public call for a gradual withdrawal of Monusco.
The decision to pull out 2,000 troops is based on what the UN views as a partially improved security situation in eastern DRC following the defeat in 2013 of the M23 rebel army. The DRC national army has also enhanced its capacity, UN officials say.
Foreign negative forces
However, besides FDLR, which is based in North and South Kivu, eastern DRC continues to suffer from foreign negative forces that include remnants of the ADF-NALU militia in the Beni territory while the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) still maintains a presence in the northern part of Garamba National Park, near the border with Central African Republic and South Sudan.
Mr Kajwengye said that despite the recent operations to dismantle ADF camps and hideouts, the militia continues to kill innocent civilians in Beni territory, with the aim of diverting military operations and instigating hostility between the civilian population and DRC government forces.
On January 19, the European Union Foreign Affairs Council meeting noted that the moment has come to start military action as per United Nations Security Council Resolution 2147. And that military action has to be complemented by political action based on long-term stability by tackling the root causes of instability in eastern DRC.
“At any point, FDLR combatants can still choose a peaceful path by entering into the existing Disarmament, Demobilisation, Repatriation, Reintegration and Resettlement (DDRRR) programme, which continues to repatriate former FDLR members to Rwanda,” the Foreign Affairs Council said in a statement.
Participants at the Nairobi conference noted that FDLR can follow the example of M23 which took advantage of the law on insurgents, acts of war and political offences that has since been enacted by the DRC government.
Under the law, some 2,100 former M23 fighters have been identified in the cantonment sites in Rwanda and Uganda, and have signed their personal identification forms and applied for amnesty. To date, 559 former M23 have been granted amnesty in Rwanda and Uganda while 180 have been repatriated to DRC.
Additional reporting by Kevin Kelley