Article written

  • on 03.03.2015
  • at 02:21 PM
  • by Kevin Hind

After UN-Kinshasa fallout, operations against FDLR begin in eastern DRC 0

In early January 2015 joint operations between UN combat troops and Congolese soldiers against rebels who refused to disarm in eastern DRC were announced, repeatedly, as being imminent. The Congolese army – the FARDC – and MONUSCO’s Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) shared “a high level of preparedness and team spirit,” according to MONUSCO head Martin Kobler, who described operations against the FDLR as “upcoming”.

In the meantime, the UN became unexpectedly sidelined and unilateral military operations against the Forces Démocratiques pour la Libération du Rwanda (FDLR) began with the Congolese army attacking rebel positions in South Kivu from February 24, and in North Kivu from February 26.

Bumpy road towards military operations

From early on, a series of obstacles obstructed the planning of joint military operations. The Rwandan FDLR rebels failed to respond to a six-month deadline for voluntary demobilisation by January 2. International envoys considered the approximately 300 surrendered combatants and smaller stockpiles of arms and ammunition as insufficient to demonstrate effective demobilisation.

Shortly after the deadline passed, MONUSCO’s leadership declared that offensive military operations would follow suit. However, observers and diplomats warned against hoping that success would come quickly, claiming that dismantling the FDLR would be a much tougher challenge than M23 (an armed group defeated in November 2013 by the FARDC and the FIB). FDLR representatives in turn repeatedly underlined that they were not seeking to engage in armed confrontation. One of their leaders stated, off the record, that they “will disperse and hide in the Kivus’ vast forest panoplies” in case of an attack.

On January 29, the FARDC’s chief of staff, Didier Etumba, presented a new operational plan to tackle the militia. As opposed to earlier preparations, this plan did not include the FIB, MONUSCO’s segment tasked with ‘neutralising armed groups’. Instead, the FARDC is to deploy three regiments, only relying on MONUSCO for logistics and supply. The surprising side-lining of the FIB has three potential explanations: either the FARDC is not interested in winning the battle, or conversely it wants to defeat the FDLR on its own, or third, this represents a symptom of the government’s larger discontent with the UN mission.

At the same time, the FARDC’s latest reshuffle in North Kivu saw the appointment of General Fall Sikabwe as the new head of the 34th Military Region in Goma and General Bruno Mandevu – Operational Commander for ‘Sukola II’ (as the anti-FDLR operation is called). Both appear on a red list curated by MONUSCO’s Joint Human Rights Office to monitor abuses by the FARDC.

These announcements have cemented long-looming tensions between Kinshasa and the UN. Senior MONUSCO officials reacted with disappointment. Leading mission staff commented that the situation was causing “a major headache” and it was like “opening a door without knowing what is behind”. Subsequently, the UN demanded that the DRC government replace the commanders in question as a pre-condition for any type of support. The Congolese government though, rejected concomitant concerns in a government communiqué. On February 15, President Kabila warned diplomats and UN officials against meddling in domestic affairs such as army appointments. It remains unclear, however, whether the nominations are meant to obstruct joint FARDC-MONUSCO operations.

Continue Reading on: African Arguments

by Christopher Vogel

Photo Credit: African Arguments

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