Who is going after FDLR and who not?

It has been roughly four weeks after a six-month ultimatum for Rwandan FDLR rebels to voluntarily disarm expired, until – on Thursday 29th January – military operations against the group were announced. In the slipstream of the visit of DRC’s army chief of staff Lt. Gen. Etumba, concrete announcements were made that FARDC will head the chase of the notorious Rwandan militia that contributed widely to insecurity in eastern DRC throughout the past 20 years. For more background, this page has followed recent development here, here, here, and here and Simone Schlindwein as well as Jason Stearns have offered excellent analysis pieces recently.

These announcements came after increasing international pressure on the Congolese government and MONUSCO, which both have been accused by observers as well as the Rwandan government anxious about FDLR’s delay tactics and possible survival as as armed group. In the shadow of the African Union summit in Addis Ababa – attended both by DRC president Joseph Kabila and MONUSCO head Martin Kobler.

Meanwhile, Congolese and international media remained confused over the nature of the announcement as humanitarian anxieties are on the rise. In fact, it is possible that these operations will be accompanied by an uncertain fate. The most telling comments behind closed doors ranged from “we all have a terrible headache about this” to “this is like opening a door and you don’t know what is behind”. Why is that? Here is to some bits of the current state of the art, bearing in mind a rather volatile situation in terms of information:

  • MONUSCO’s role in the operations remains absolutely unclarified. In their public communication, senior staff aimed at appeasing by stating that operations will be carried out jointly – a claim not officially confirmed. As of now, FARDC intends to launch unilateral military operations in which they seem only to demand logistical and supply assistance.
  • As of now, it seems that Gen.’s Sikabwe, the newly appointed head of the 34th military region covering North Kivu (previously head of operations in Ituri) and Mandevu, will be among the leading commanders on the army side. Whether or not they stand the usual MONUSCO vetting process remains to be seen.
  • In the worst case, MONUSCO may not be able to monitor frontline events, a fact underlined by the non-existence of a proper contingency plan while MONUSCO’s drones are stuck in Beni area and unavailable for the FDLR zone until further notice.
  • The Force Intervention Brigade, supposedly the part of MONUSCO’s armed forces that shall lead offensive action against non-state armed groups in eastern DRC, might have been sidelined for there is no information they will form an integral part of the FARDC-led operations such as for instance in the fight against M23.
  • A day before operations were officially announced, a pamphlet heralded the creation of a new FDLR splinter, called FPP (Force de Protection du People) and combining parts of FDLR with local militias. This will complicate the identification of who is FDLR and who is not.
  • FDLR leaders of both FOCA (‘the’ FDLR) and RUD (a splinter group that broke away in 2006/07) have repeatedly made clear they will not engage in open fighting. Although intelligence sources approximate their positions adequately, the armed units of FDLR are dispersed over vast spaces covering parts of Lubero, Rutshuru, Masisi, and Nyiragongo.
  • An earlier joint plan of operations was never adopted by the Congolese government, that opted for the FARDC plan instead. MONUSCO leaders, according to repetitive rumours, had limited insight into the approved planning.

On the basis of these and other elements, the actual déroulement of anti-FDLR operations is subject to myriad uncertainties. While previously reticent troop-contributing countries seem to have lessened their reluctance to engage FDLR militarily, the situation may change in a way that they might end up not engaging for an emerging set to reasons, including a de facto sidelining in the operational planning (as it seems to be the case for the FIB components). The political climate between Kinshasa and MONUSCO has been worsening in addition, with the Congolese government reportedly lacking trust in the UN mission. Key figures on the MONUSCO may soon reach their term limits and recent reshuffling on the Congolese side render the personnel constellation into a potential carousel, possibly impacting on the smoothness of collaboration.

With not more than two months left until MONUSCO (and its FIB) will need Security Council approval and after a strategic review that stipulates the mission’s downsizing (and asset transfer to other missions such as UNMISS and MINUSCA), the FDLR operations may now turn into the actual litmus test for both the UN’s largest and most long-standing peacekeeping operation and the 2098-induced doctrine of peace enforcement. The auspices are mixed.

 

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  1. […] Christoph Vogel, ‘Who is going after FDLR and why not?,’ Christophvogel.net […]



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