Where in the world is the FDLR?
That seems to be the question going around Uvira recently, as the current government military operation called Kimya II (which means something like ‘quiet’ or ‘invisible’ in Swahili) is taking hold in South Kivu. Kimya II is being conducted against the usual suspects-the Rwandan FDLR rebels, who have at their leadership certain participants in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. The operation is more than confusing, as it combines battalions of former enemies like the Mai Mai and CNDP (formerly led by Laurent Nkunda) with the Congolese FARDC forces in order to form a force capable of tracking the FDLR rebels and bringing an end to their long-standing presence in eastern Congo. The success of Kimya II seems unlikely for a number of reasons, primarily because the force meant to fight off the FDLR is composed of forces which have traditionally been extremely antagonistic to each other. For example, just last December, the CNDP was literally within spitting distance of taking Goma from the FARDC forces, with the Mai Mai lingering in the era and periodically attacking both the CNDP and FARDC. Massacres, pillaging, and rape were committed by all three forces involved in the Goma fighting-even by FARDC soldiers fleeing the occupation of their city. Additionally, the now reintegrated CNDP soldiers were part of the battalions which attacked and occupied Bukavu in 2004, raping and pillaging indiscriminately. No one has forgotten this. Now, the Congolese government is hoping all three will work together in harmony to throw out the FDLR, which is marked as an enemy of all armed groups involved.
The population here is obviously almost unanimously against Kimya II and the threat it poses to civilians in South Kivu. First, there is little proof that the FARDC is capable, even with its new found ‘friends,’ of threatening the FDLR rebels. The FDLR rebels are well-entrenched throughout South and North Kivu and commonly regarded as more adequately trained than the FARDC. The Kimya II force seems merely to anger the rebels, then flee their attack, leaving civilians exposed to FDLR ‘revenge.’ Going further, all the groups intended to force the FDLR out are more used to acting directly AGAINST the best interests of the civilian population. Recent investigations by Oxfam (interviews in 20 communities within South Kivu) and Human Rights Watch (interviews throughout North and South Kivu) in the East have commented on the massive abuses by both the FARDC soldiers and their Mai Mai allies, most surveys concluding that communities here have at least as much fear of ‘their own’ troops as the FDLR rebels. These interviews included many of the reintegrated forces (combining former rebels with FARDC) which form the Kimya II force. Finally, no one in the community is neglecting to mention the obvious truth that when the FDLR are being hunted down, the massacres of civilians invariably increase in frequency.
Recent killings across South Kivu have revealed a clear pattern. First, the government forces attack a particular FDLR rebel stronghold as part of Kimya II operations. The FDLR then recedes into surrounding forest areas in order to regroup and plan a counter-attack. This counter-attack occurs, the FARDC troops flee, and the FDLR is left to attack the civilians. This just happened in Busurungi village in South Kivu, with at least 100 civilians killed. A Washington Post article commented that the attacked FDLR rebels recaptured Busurungi village ‘…without resistance from the government forces, who had already moved to another area,’ and then simply arrived to massacre the civilian population. These types of attacks have created the current IDP (internally displaced person) problem in eastern Congo, with at least 900,000 fleeing their homes in North and South Kivu since January. Add to that the 300,000 which fled in December 2008, and you have over 1 million new IDPs in the last 7 months or so.
If anything, Kimya II is merely inciting more violence, causing more distrust and fear among the community, and creating a situation where the IDP population will continue to increase in number. I am certainly seeing this aspect of the ‘fall out’ in Uvira recently, as the constant stream of IDPs fleeing violence in surrounding villages ends in Uvira. Trucks have been coming in to town with astonishing frequency full of IDPs leaving their homes in Lemera, Sange, Livungi, and other villages with strong FDLR presence. Simple lines of those fleeing on foot carrying everything they own are now unfortunately a part of the landscape between Uvira and Bukavu. This is just another situation in Congo which seems to lack a clear military solution, as civilians always bear the brunt of these ‘efforts at consolidating the peace.’ The question I am curious is to ask those leaving their homes is whether they are fleeing the FDLR rebels, the Kimya II forces, or both. Frustratingly typical in Congo, civilians merely move from one hot spot to another, with no one reliable to turn to for protection and no time to come up for air.
Posted By Ned Meerdink (DR Congo)
Posted Jul 20th, 2009