The Institute for Security Studies (ISS) says the joint Congo-Rwanda offensive against Hutu as well as Tutsi insurgents in North Kivu province has “reshaped the political and military landscape in the Kivus and have major implications for bringing stability to this troubled region”.
But in writing about the evolution of events there over the last six weeks, ISS military analyst Henri Boshoff wonders if the change is either permanent or for the better.
Some 6000 Rwandan soldiers crossed into DRC at Goma on 20 January and immediately formed a joint force with the Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC), to conduct Operation “Umoja wetu” (“Our unity”). This undertaking is currently winding down with Rwanda scheduled to withdraw its forces from the DRC by Friday.
The operation was preceded y an apparent palace coup in the Tutsi Congrès National pour la Défense du Peuple (CNDP) that saw then Chief of Staff Bosco Ntaganda announcing on 5 January that he had replaced Laurent Nkunda as leader.
“Following a period of uncertainty, Ntaganda announced, on 16 January … that the CNDP and the government of the DRC had reached an agreement on the immediate cessation of hostilities,” Boshoff says.
He also announced that CNDP troops would joint the Congolese-Rwanda force and conduct operations against Hutu FDLR insurgents and then declared his troops would merge into the FARDC.
Nkunda was subsequently arrested in Rwanda on 22 January and reportedly placed under house arrest. Dutch radio reports indicate Kigali has decided to hand him over to Kinshasa to be tried for war crimes by a military tribunal. “However, no date for the handover or trial was set”.
The Congo accuses Nkunda of massacring civilians and plundering towns since his defection from the FARDC in 2004 under the guise of protecting Tutsis from Hutus linked to Rwanda`s 1994 genocide.
Boshoff notes the joint force deployed along two routes: one towards the north in the area of Rutshuru and Kanyabayonga, and one towards the west from Mushaki to the Masisi area.
“The force claimed to be successful, based on the number of FDLR-soldiers repatriated to Rwanda. The UN force in the DRC (Monuc) reported that 1003 FDLR combatants and their dependents have since been repatriated.
“This figure, taken over the last 48 days, equals the number of repatriation in the entire 2008. The UN High Commission for Refugees has since 1 January 2009 also reported voluntarily repatriated of 883 civilians to Rwanda,” he adds.
“However, whether the operation has really been successful, is still debatable. This is mainly because the presence of the FDLR in its stronghold, South Kivu, has not been addressed and Rwanda is due to withdraw soon. The plan is to replace Rwandan troops with Monuc troops in operations in South Kivu.
“Meanwhile the population in North Kivu is worried about what will happen when Rwanda withdraws. Will Monuc be able to protect them against possible FDLR retaliation? Only time will tell”, Boshoff says.
Also integrating into the FARDC are insurgents from the Pareco and Mayi-Mayi groupings. “Once the operation against the FDLR is over, these newly established units are expected to be sent for training or refreshment courses”. Up until 18 February 3548 CNDP troops and 2000 Pareco and Mayi-Mayi combatants have been integrated into a pool of 9335 FARDC troops.
“The CNDP and other groups will not be demobilised, disarmed and integrated into the FARDC outside North Kivu but be integrated directly into the FARDC and used against the FDLR. This is again the wrong way to go about integrating rebels into the regular army and repeating the failed ‘mixage` process of 2007,” Boshoff warns. “It seems no lessons have been learnt from the previous process.”
Boshoff says the recent developments present us with two scenarios:
“The first scenario will have a positive outcome, and a second scenario indicates the risks of failure.
“If the situation is to improve, it will require political will from the governments of the region, fully backed by the international community. In this first scenario solutions could be found for issues such as the demobilisation of the CNDP and other armed groups as well as the repatriation of the FDLR back to Rwanda.
“The significant reversal of the balance of power in the Kivus is remarkable, with a united force for the first time against the FDLR since 1999. There is now a real opportunity to implement the main objectives to bring peace to the eastern DRC as set out in the Nairobi Communiqué and the Goma conference.
“The integration of the CNDP and other groups into the FARDC also opens a unique opportunity for the international community and the African Union to help the DRC to build a credible and professional security sector, especially its armed forces,” the analyst says.
“The second scenario spells out some risks that could destabilise the region. The biggest concerns are related to the humanitarian consequences of operations against the FDLR. In addition to the risk that civilians are caught in the crossfire, the FDLR could launch violent attacks against the civilian population.
“Such attacks could also escalate hostilities along ethnic lines. It is estimated that some 300 000 to 350 000 additional people could be affected by operations against the FDLR in North Kivu. The communities in North Kivu are also concerned about the withdrawal of the Rwandan forces and the security vacuum that could see FDLR returning to North Kivu. The situation is expected to be even more difficult in South Kivu where the FDLR is very deeply entrenched,” Boshoff cautions.
“Key to ensuring that the first scenario prevails is the deployment of the FARDC, supported by Monuc, to continue with the integration of the CNDP and other armed groups as well as the repatriation of FDLR. Finally Monuc must also ensure the protection of civilians to be able to be seen as a credible force in the DRC.