The Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) rebels have begun laying down arms and surrendering to the United Nations and the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) ahead of a January 2015 deadline.
The Deputy Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General in charge of operations in the Eastern DRC Wafy Abdallah said on December 3, that over 600 rebels and their dependants reported to the camps set up by the UN and were transferred to the main transit centre in Kisangani.
The development comes one month to the January 2, 2015 deadline set by the UN and regional countries for the rebels to surrender of face military action.
Kigali, which remains sceptical about the FDLR’s will to surrender or abandon the ‘genocide ideology,’ did not comment on the reported surrender, which is being supervised by the DRC government.
The Rwandan government has been calling for military action against the group it accuses of harbouring perpetrators of the 1994 Tutsi genocide and posing a continuing security threat to Rwanda and the region.
According to Mr Abdallah, the rebels have over the past week been reporting to temporary camps set up in North and South Kivu with their families. They were moved from the camps of Kanyabayonga (North Kivu) and Walungu (South Kivu) to the main transit camp in Kisangani.
“The FDLR rebels who were in the camps of Walungu and Kanyabayonga have all been moved. That is to say that the combatants and their dependants have been taken to Camp Bahuma, the main camp in Kisangani,” Mr Abdallah told a press conference in Kinshasa.
He said a meeting with FDLR heads to discuss the full disarmament and repatriation will be held over the next few days, adding that full disarmament will have been concluded by January 2.
The UN together with countries forming the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) and the International Conference for the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) had set a six month deadline for the rebels to voluntarily disarm and return home. The deadline is set to expire on January 2.
Recent reports indicated that the rebels, who had been defiant over the past few months, instead had started recruiting in readiness for the military strikes.
It is also not clear how many fighters the Hutu rebel group whose members are accused of committing atrocities during the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi remains with. It is estimated that the rebel group has between 1,500 and 2,000 fighters, though the Rwandan government puts the figure at 3, 000 fighters.
The UN is still holding out hope that Rwandan rebels holed up in the eastern DRC jungles will fully disarm and opt for peaceful surrender as the deadline draws nearer.
Said Djinnit, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Great Lakes region, maintained in an interview that the ultimate goal is the unconditional and permanent disarmament of the FDLR and that the use of force will be the last option.