The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) should seize this “opportunity” to end the presence of Rwandan FDLR rebels on its territory once and for all, the country’s Defense minister, Aimé Ngoy Mukena, has been told at the start of a two-day bilateral ministerial meeting in Kigali.
Rwanda’s Defense Minister Gen James Kabarebe said FDLR, which has spent more than 20 years “wreaking havoc in the region” cannot be allowed to continue.
Defense ministers from the two countries are holding security talks again after one in June 2012.
“This is an opportunity that should not be missed,” said Kabarebe. “DRC and Rwanda have an obligation to their citizens, to ensure peace and security as a foundation for development. UN and regional forces can only come to our assistance.”
On June 27, Rwanda’s Chief of Defense Staff Gen Patrick Nyamvumba, was invited to Kinshasa by DRC’s army chief Gen Didier Etumba to discuss ongoing DRC military operations against the FDLR.
The two commanders also worked on a framework for “future cooperation of the two defense forces”, according to officials. The two armies have previously carried out join operations against the Rwandan rebels.
Since early 2014, FDLR has been given ultimatums by regional leaders to lay down arms and repatriate peacefully or face military action, but there have not been sufficient efforts to enforce the resolution.
Some militiamen surrendered and were put in transit camps managed by UN forces MONUSCO, before getting transport to Rwanda. Some have abandoned their posts, walked for weeks to reach UN bases – eventually brought to Rwanda.
The most recent is the arrival of Lieutenant Colonel Nibabaza a.k.a Mambo Gerald, 47, who was chief of administration for the Democratic Front for Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR-FOCA).
Between 1998 and 2015, over 11,000 ex-FDLR have surrendered, but an estimated 3400 have refused to lay down arms.
UN and Rwandan assessments suggest the rebels have been recruiting in the villages of DRC.
UN investigations have also indicated that all those being surrendered by the FDLR commanders are largely sick, elderly and unable to fight.
Many of those who have surfaced at UN disarmament camps look frail, with long standing body injuries.
The DRC army has not been immune from constant attacks by the rebels. In the past month, dozens of Congolese soldiers have been killed and many injured in FDLR ambushes.
On August 31, six FARDC soldiers were killed in major ambush in Rutshuru territory in North Kivu as he headed towards Goma. Their military vehicle was completely burnt.
As his own army comes under fire from the group, they have been adamant to rout out of the forests of eastern Congo, the visiting DRC defense minister was in accordance that the FDLR cannot keep getting away with impunity.
He said the two countries needed to end the issue of negative forces so that governments focus on development.
“The Ministers of war must in essence become ministers of peace – we need to surpass the spirit of war, to that of peace,” said Minister Aimé Ngoy Mukena.
On the pending issue of M23 rebels cantoned in eastern Rwanda, Minister Mukena said they are “working tirelessly” to have the rebels repatriated to DRC.
For his part, Rwanda’s General Kabarebe said Kigali has played its part. Once the rebels arrived in Rwanda they “disarmed, documented, cantoned, and removed from the DRC-Rwanda border, several hundred kilometers away in Ngoma district on Rwanda-Tanzania border.”
“This was aimed at making sure it is no longer a threat to DRC security,” said Gen. Kabarebe.
This meeting should “review progress made, discuss outstanding issues and how to address them in a comprehensive manner,” added Kabarebe.