Congo vows offensive to oust Hutu rebels

2015-02-08 17:16
Congolese soldiers visit territory retaken last week from M23 rebels, near the Rwandan border north of Goma, Congo. (Joseph Kay, AP)

Congolese soldiers visit territory retaken last week from M23 rebels, near the Rwandan border north of Goma, Congo. (Joseph Kay, AP)

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Mweso - The wobbly white tarp tents once constructed for people fleeing a violent Rwandan Hutu rebel group have gradually been replaced by more solid huts of branches, banana leaves and mud. After all, it's been nine years now since the residents became refugees in their own country.

"And all this time the rebels are still farming the land in my village," says Witonze Nzambonipa, the camp's elected chief.

But now Nzambonipa and others in the camp have hope their situation might improve, as the Congolese military has vowed to oust the rebels known by their French acronym - FDLR - after they failed to meet a 2 January deadline to disarm.

The military operation is supposed to be gaining additional support from the UN peacekeepers in eastern Congo who already helped the beleaguered country defeat another group known as the M23.

The stakes are high in eastern Congo, a region plagued by a myriad of armed rebels in the two decades since the Rwandan genocide. The FDLR includes Rwandan Hutus who committed the 1994 massacres and who fled into Congo to escape prosecution. The instability created by the FDLR rebels in eastern Congo has allowed other fighters to flourish as well.

"In many ways, the FDLR triggered the cycles of war that DRC [Congo] has experienced for two decades," says Fidel Bafilemba, a researcher with the advocacy group the Enough Project. "If these operations manage to really deal with them, all the other armed groups will disappear easily."

Yet days after the United Nations welcomed the official launch of the offensive, internal disputes have kept the forces from kicking off a coordinated offensive. One official, who insisted on anonymity as he was not authorised to talk to journalists, said the UN had objected to the inclusion of some Congolese soldiers in the mission.

Congo wants to use the soldiers most familiar with the FDLR group, but the official said those very same soldiers have been "red-flagged" (banned) because of allegations of past human rights abuses.

The UN's deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq made those allegations public this week.

"The appointment of two Congolese generals to lead this operation, who are known to us as having been heavily involved in massive human right violations, is of grave concern," said Haq on Thursday in New York. "I can confirm discussions are underway at the highest level with the DRC [Congolese] government to address these concerns." He said UN support for the anti-rebel offensive could be withheld.

Read more on:    fdlr  |  congo  |  central africa

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