The U.S. Must Act to Promote Peace in the Congo

GARETH EVANS – International Crisis Group

The U.S. Must Act to Promote Peace in the Congo
Brussels/Nairobi, 14 April 2005: The International Crisis Group urges President George W. Bush in his meeting with Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame on April 15 to press the Rwandan government to take concrete action to promote peace in the Congo.
In a letter (full text below) addressed to President Bush, the Crisis Group has recommended three steps to marginalise the hardliners among the Rwandan FDLR rebels operating in the eastern Congo and to encourage the return of the 8,000 to 10,000 FDLR combatants still based in the Congo.
The FDLR have been at the centre of the two Congo wars. The FDLR remain a serious threat to the Congolese population on which its fighters live off and prey. While they are no longer a serious strategic threat to Rwanda, they can still launch cross-border raids into Rwanda and provoke incursions by the Rwandan army into the Congo. On March 31, the FDLR announced in Rome that they will abandon the armed struggle and declared that they are willing to return to Rwanda peacefully. However, there are indications that the FDLR will not act on its promise and will tie their return to political conditions.
In the letter, Crisis Group President Gareth Evans calls for the Rwandan government to prevent a deadlock by separating the hard-line political figures from those willing to return. The letter urges the Rwandan government to meet with FDLR military commanders for technical discussions on the modalities of their return. The Rwandan government has refused to do so until now.
In addition, the letter asks for the Rwandan government to identify the FDLR commanders who are wanted by Rwandan courts or the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) for crimes of genocide. It also recommends that the Rwandan government provide greater incentives for the FDLR commanders to return, such as the integration of those not guilty of atrocities into the Rwandan army.
If the Rwandan government does not act, the peaceful avenues for demobilisation are likely to fail and the only solution to the FDLR will be military. This will provoke the displacement and death of many more civilians in the region. President Bush’s meeting with President Kagame is a timely opportunity to further the peace process in both Rwanda and the Congo.
To find out more about the conflict in the Congo, visit our Congo advocacy page. This page has details of Crisis Group’s reports and opinion pieces on the conflict, details of our advocacy efforts to date, information on what you can do to support Crisis Group’s efforts, and links to other resources on the conflict.
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Dear Mr President,
I write to urge you to utilise the visit of President Paul Kagame to Washington on April 15 to underline to him the importance of Rwanda taking several specific steps that would make a substantial contribution to peace in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Those steps are basically designed to marginalise the hardliners among the Rwandan FDLR rebels who have been such a destabilising presence in the eastern Congo over the last decade. Rwanda should be requested to:
accept a mechanism to meet with the FDLR military leadership for technical discussions (which would not touch on any political conditions) concerning its peaceful repatriation to Rwanda;
specifically identify those still in the Congo who are wanted by Rwandan courts or the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) for crimes of genocide; and
be prepared to integrate some high-ranking FDLR commanders not responsible for atrocities into the Rwandan Defence Forces.
Background. The FDLR have been at the centre of the two Congo wars. In recent years, they have been significantly weakened as the Congolese government has cut off their supply line, and defections have caused some of the top leadership to return to Rwanda. The movement currently numbers 8,000 to 10,000 fighters, based in the North and South Kivu provinces of the eastern Congo. While these insurgents are no longer a serious strategic threat to Rwanda, they can still launch cross-border raids and provoke incursions by the Rwandan army into the Congo. One such incursion took place last November and triggered a crisis that pushed the fragile Congolese transition to the brink. The FDLR is also a serious threat to the Congolese population on which its fighters live off and prey.
In March, the FDLR and the Congolese government met in Rome for talks under the auspices of the Community of Sant’Egidio. At the end of the meeting, the FDLR condemned the genocide, renounced the armed struggle and declared its willingness to return to Rwanda peacefully. On any view, if the rebels can be made to follow through on this promise, it will make a large contribution toward peace in the Great Lakes region.
There are signs, however, that the FDLR might not act on its declaration. Its political leadership, based in Europe, is much weaker and more divided than other Rwandan opposition parties and does not want to lose its main asset, the armed wing in the Congo. According to numerous reliable sources, it will now seek to attach political conditions to any return to Rwanda, such as the demand that the FDLR be permitted to function there as a political party, which presently stand no chance of being accepted by the Rwandan Government.
While there is a real need, as Crisis Group has consistently insisted, for a liberalisation of Rwandan politics, the nature of the FDLR and its violent past make the Rwandan government’s position understandable. But there is still a way forward. Many FDLR military commanders seem willing to return to Rwanda without political conditions: according to Crisis Group interviews with commanders in the field and demobilised combatants, the military leadership is tired after eleven years of armed struggle that has decimated its troops. President Kagame should take advantage of this opportunity to separate the commanders from the hard-line political figures.
Proposed technical discussions. It is unrealistic to believe the FDLR will demobilise if the Rwandan government does not meet with its military commanders and discuss their return. Until now, Kigali has refused, as it is opposed to any negotiations with a group it reasonably regards as criminal. What is needed, however, is not political negotiations but technical discussion of the modalities of the return to Rwanda. This should be coordinated with the Congolese government, which has recently proven itself eager to be rid of the movement.
Proposed treatment of suspected genocidaires. During these talks, the Rwandan government should provide a list of FDLR officers who are suspected of genocide crimes by either Rwandan courts or the ICTR in Arusha. These individuals should fall under either category I or II genocidaires, in other words those believed to be the most serious offenders. The Rwandan government has said that 10 to 12 per cent of the leadership was involved in the genocide. Other sources believe the number of such persons still with the FDLR may be much smaller. Rwandan intelligence has detailed lists of both the FDLR commanders and those accused of genocide, and it should be relatively simple to establish who are the wanted individuals. Naming them will isolate the hardliners and encourage the other leaders to return home.
The FDLR, before the repatriation of the remainder of the movement, would have to hand over to the ICTR or Kigali the genocidaires in their ranks and enlist immediately in the voluntary disarmament and repatriation process run by the UN peacekeeping mission, MONUC.
Proposed integration of FDLR commanders into the RDF. The FDLR military leadership still needs a strong incentive to return to Rwanda. It is clear that the $200 package on offer to regular demobilised combatants will not suffice to bring the leaders back. Many of them have expressed the desire to continue a military career. In 2003, Kigali orchestrated the repatriation of the Force Commander of the FDLR, General Paul Rwarakabije, by offering him and three other FDLR officers ranks in the Rwandan army. A similar offer should be extended to those in the current FDLR leadership who are not guilty of atrocities.
The Rwandan government should be encouraged to be more proactive in closing the chapter on the FDLR and removing it as a spoiler to the Congo peace process. In neighbouring Uganda and Burundi, flexible approaches to enemy militias have contributed to stabilisation of the region and demobilisation of thousands of combatants.
If peaceful avenues for demobilisation are exhausted, the only solution to the FDLR will be military. This will provoke the displacement and deaths of many more innocent civilians in the region. President Kagame’s visit is a timely opportunity to further the peace process in both Rwanda and the Congo.
Yours sincerely,
GARETH EVANS
President

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