The Congo: Solving the FDLR Problem Once and for All
The continued existence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo of 8,000 to 10,000 Hutu rebels with links to the 1994 genocide in their home country, Rwanda, is a key source of regional instability. Though too weak to imperil Rwanda's government, and though many of its members are not themselves genocidaires, the FDLR (Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda) gives Kigali justification for continued interference in the Congo and threats to invade. It remains a menace to Congolese and Rwandan civilians and a potential tool with which hardliners in Kinshasa could sabotage the Congo's fragile peace process. New urgency is required from the Transitional Government in Kinshasa, Rwanda and the wider international community alike to solve the FDLR problem once and for all -- non-violently if at all possible, but by military force (by the new Congolese army, with international support) if necessary.
On 31 March 2005 in Rome, representatives of the FDLR announced the movement was willing to cease military action against Rwanda and return home. This declaration followed negotiations with representatives of Congolese President Kabila, sponsored by the Community of Sant'Egidio, and appeared to present an opportunity to remove one of the main obstacles to peace and security in the Great Lakes. In the same declaration, the FDLR denounced the Rwandan genocide and committed to working with the instruments of international justice. More concretely, it stated that, provided it was assured of unspecified "measures of accompaniment", it would transform its struggle from a military to a political one; voluntarily demobilise and repatriate its troops to Rwanda; and seek the repatriation of all Rwandan refugees. The FDLR and the Congolese Transitional Government issued a timetable that envisaged demobilisation would begin by early May 2005 and repatriation would be completed by the end of June.
There are serious reasons to doubt matters will go so smoothly. The Rwandan government, which was not at the Rome meeting, has always refused political negotiations with a group it, not unreasonably, considers to be criminal. FDLR leaders, who have had little incentive to go back to a country where some face imprisonment and others would lose status and assets, have in the past made return dependent on unrealistic conditions including opportunity for their movement to operate politically and for an Inter-Rwandan Dialogue between the ruling party in Kigali, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), and the opposition in exile. The Rome Declaration, which cited no conditions, looks like a step forward but the reference to unspecified "measures of accompaniment" and subsequent statements suggest troublesome conditions are likely to be forthcoming.
If peaceful avenues for disarming the FDLR are exhausted, the only solution left will be a military one. The UN Mission in the Congo (MONUC) will not undertake this task; the new Congolese army, which would ultimately have to do the job with UN and other international help in logistics and training, is not yet fully ready but it could make a beginning. While this would likely result in more displacement and deaths of innocent civilians, at least in the short run, letting the problem continue to fester is not an option: it could well provoke another crisis and an outbreak of more general fighting in the region. Much as he did in late 2004, Rwandan President Paul Kagame has recently renewed threats to invade the Congo again, and tensions in both countries have increased substantially.
To enhance the prospect of a non-violent solution, there are a number of steps that each of the relevant actors should take.
The Congolese Transitional Government should:
- pressure the FDLR to refrain from setting political conditions for a return to Rwanda and to follow through on its Rome Declaration commitments, including the repatriation timetable; and
- make plans to begin to use force to compel the FDLR to demobilise if diplomatic efforts fail.
The Rwandan government should seek to split more moderate FDLR commanders off from hardliners by:
- holding non-political, technical discussions with FDLR leaders about return modalities;
- providing monetary and other incentives for return, including an offer to integrate eligible commanders into its army; and
- identifying which commanders are, and which are not, sought by Rwandan courts for crimes of genocide and accepting an option of third-country asylum for those not sought for serious crimes by its own courts or the International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda in Arusha.
- prepare to provide logistical support to the Congolese army in forceful disarmament of the FDLR should that prove necessary.
The African Union should:
- give active political support to efforts to achieve peaceful disarmament of the FDLR and some substance to its declared intention to establish a force to assist in forceful disarmament should that prove necessary; and
- support efforts to expand the international community's role in enhancing the capacity of the Congolese forces.
The international donor community, including the international financial institutions, should:
- more closely condition its aid -- on which both the Congolese Transitional Government and the Rwandan government are heavily dependent -- to concrete measures to advance the Congo peace process, including a definitive solution to the FDLR problem.
Nairobi/Brussels, 12 May 2005