A deal being negotiated between the FDLR rebels and the DR Congo government risks unravelling gains painfully made over the years as the international community attempts to put a lid on conflicts within the Great Lakes region.
The Chronicles can exclusively reveal that the DR Congo government has, since early last year, been holding secret talks with the Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda (FDLR) – some of whose members are wanted in Rwanda for genocide related charges. Its leaders also face different international courts over war crimes. Leading the DR Congo delegation is Major General Dieudonné Amuli — the ex-coordinator of Operation Amani Leo, which aimed at flashing out the rebels, and FDLR deputy executive secretary “Lieutenant Colonel” Wilson Irategera for the FDLR delegation.
The talks have been ongoing since February last year, and a “preliminary ceasefire agreement” was concluded on March 17. The dilemma however, is that neither the Government of Rwanda nor senior FDLR officers want anything to do with discussion. And the two sides have what could only be described as impossible demands by the other.
Rwanda’s Foreign Affairs Ministry (MINAFFET), essentially, the country’s window to the outside world, tells The Chronicles that it is not aware of any agreement but actually termed the FDLR a “genocidaire militia”.
Details of the talks are contained in the latest UN report submitted Friday, December 30, 2011, to the Security Council by the UN Group of Experts on DRC. The talks have a facilitator but the name and signature of the individual have deliberately been erased from the agreement – probably by the UN team itself.
The “preliminary agreement” includes a commitment by FDLR to disarm and regroup all its combatants and dependants in a secure zone between 150 and 300 km from the Rwandan border, where they would settle and transform into a political movement.
The DRC Government would guarantee the safety of FDLR combatants and grant asylum to those seeking refugee status. The preliminary agreement also underlined the necessity of involvement on the part of the international community.
The UN mission in DRC (MONUSCO) estimates that FDLR combatants do not exceed 3,000 in number, while Rwandan intelligence services presented the UN Group of investigators with a figure of 4,355 - including more than 2,000 in South Kivu alone. In its estimates, the UNHCR says there are probably about 10,000 Rwanda refugees living in the areas controlled by the rebels.
Rwanda indifferent In Kigali, however, any mention of talks with the FDLR has been received with outright hostility. According to the UN report, DRC did take “steps to reassure” the Rwandan Government about this process, but Kigali has “remained remarkably silent on the issue”.
Foreign Affairs Minister, Louise Mushikiwabo told The Chronicles on Thursday last week that she was “not aware of such an Agreement”. In rejoinder to our request for comment, the Minister demonstrated a strong show of dislike for the whole idea of talks.
“...you can be sure that any move to rehabilitate members of FDLR from a genocidaire militia to anything else, including signing anything other than their arrest warrants, will be strongly opposed by my Government,” said Mushikiwabo, in a brief response from her BlackBerry phone.
By press time, we had not been able to speak to the DRC envoy in Kigali as his known cell phone was off.
“Spoilers” Despite muted objections to some of the 11 articles in the preliminary agreement by some quarters, the FDLR current executive secretary Ndagijimana has remained the most actively involved in the negotiations with the Kinshasa Government, according to MONUSCO sources. The official call record obtained by the UN investigators shows that between March and August 2011, Ndagijimana exchanged 202 text messages with the principal facilitator Maj Gen Amuli by satellite telephone alone.
To the FDLR negotiators, this could be a godsend to regain the completely lost international credibility, which has left them vilified from all corners of the global due to the alleged crimes they have committed in the DRC. But to FDLR’s top two most senior commanders, any talks without Kigali’s involvement is meaningless.
The two men whom the UN describes as “spoilers” are “Lieutenant General” Sylvestre Mudacumura - the current FDLR supreme leader and his deputy “General” Gaston “Rumuli” Iyamuremye. These men, whose photos have never been published in the media, nor held any interviews, limit defections from the militia group by coercive means. The world only largely knows of the two men through defectors.
According to UN investigators, the talks with DRC seem to have lost momentum, mainly because of objections from Iyamuremye and Mudacumura regarding the process, as it requires commencement of disarmament. During a vote on 29 June, the FDLR senior officers are said to have opposed this DRC Government’s proposal.
UN investigators say while Mudacumura fears international justice, other “spoilers” have emerged following information leaks regarding the process. The political leader of FDLR’ splinter group Ralliement pour l’unité et la démocratie (RUD)-Urunana, Dr. Félicien Kanyamibwa, also rejected the negotiations, suggesting that Rwanda had to be involved. Details about Kanyamibwa, who lives in the United States, are published in our previous issue No 12.
Talks...? You must be joking! It is not the first time something like a negotiated end to FDLR’s rebel activities have come to light. Court documents presented in Germany at the ongoing trial of its leaders Dr. Ignace Murwanashyaka and Straton Musoni show that the militia group has deliberately targeted civilians to cause the humanitarian catastrophe. The thinking is that eventually, the international community will force Rwanda to negotiate with the rebels, say prosecutors.
The current claimed DRC plan, which has been rejected before by Rwanda, is such that the rebels who choose to return home would be facilitated to do so, whereas those who turn down repatriation would be relocated to a Congolese area far away from the two countries’ common border.
Kigali insists that relocating the rebels within Congo cannot deter them from destabilising Rwanda. At some point, government termed the suggestion that FDLR would disarm voluntarily as a fantasy. Rwanda wants them simply rounded up and deported to Kigali.