DRC: Who’s who among armed groups in the east
Militia fighters have continued to cause suffering in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (file photo)
KINSHASA, 15 June 2010 (IRIN) - Armed groups have caused severe suffering in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) over the years. Below are listed some that are active in the Kivu region. This information is gathered from various sources:
- Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR)
The FDLR was formed by Rwandan Hutus linked to the 1994 genocide and includes former members of President Juvénal Habyarimana’s army and Interahamwe militia. After they were routed by President Paul Kagame’s troops following the genocide, they regrouped in DRC to plot a return to power in Kigali, forming an armed group that eventually became the FDLR.
Former DRC President Laurent-Désiré Kabila formed an alliance with the FDLR to battle Kigali’s influence in eastern Congo after 1998 and some joined his army. But Kabila’s son Joseph, now DRC president, allowed Rwandan troops to enter Congo in 2009 and hunt the FDLR. UN security sources estimated the number of FDLR at 3,000, down from 6,000 in 2009.
The group has an armed wing, FOCA (Forces Combattantes Abacunguzi), which is active in South Kivu. FDLR has allied with other groups, such as Michel Rukunda’s Republican Federalist Forces (FRF), a South Kivu militia claiming to defend the interests of the Banyamulenge (Congolese ethnic Tutsis) and some Mai-Mai groups.
- Mai-Mai groups
Its fighters, who spray themselves with “magic water to protect themselves from bullets”, are essentially self-defence militias formed on an ad-hoc basis by local leaders who arm young men in villages, often along ethnic lines.
Some of the larger ones are better known, such as the Congolese Resistance Patriots (PARECO) or Alliance of Patriots for a Free and Sovereign Congo (APCLS), which joined the peace process in March 2009, promising to transform into peaceful political parties.
On 2 June, 500 members of the Kifuafua Mai-Mai group returned to their positions in Walikale in North Kivu, claiming that their agreed integration into the army had been delayed for too long. Most Mai-Mai groups are local forces known by the name of their leader. The Yakutumba group, which bears the name of the “major-general” at their helm, kidnapped eight aid workers in South Kivu in April.
- National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP)
The CNDP threatened to invade Goma, capital of North Kivu, in November 2008. Later, Rwanda placed its leader Laurent Nkunda under house arrest. Bosco Ntaganda, who is indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC), replaced Nkunda and agreed to steer the group towards peace. In March 2009, the CNDP became a political party and 3,000-4,000 of its fighters joined the Congolese army. Some 1,000 to 2,000 are resisting integration.
Most observers believe the CNDP retained its chains of command within the army. The group administers much of Masisi district and is involved in a range of activities in North Kivu, from artisanal mining to charcoal trafficking and extortion. It is accused of organizing the transfer of its Rwandan supporters to Masisi, raising friction between Rwandese in DRC and other ethnic groups.
- Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC)
The group, active in North Kivu, is led by General Gad Ngabo, who crossed into the Congolese district of Rutshuru from Uganda recently. Sources say he is recruiting across ethnic lines, gathering potential to compete with CNDP for control of some North Kivu areas. The group is estimated to number a few hundred fighters.
- Allied Democratic Forces/National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (ADF/NALU)
Ugandan rebel leader Jamil Mukulu founded a Muslim militant group in the early 1990s, despite converting back and forth between Islam and Catholicism. Under pressure from the Ugandan army, he recruited officers from former dictator Idi Amin’s regime and amalgamated the NALU, another Ugandan rebel group believed to harbour supporters of former president Milton Obote.
The militia crossed into DRC in the mid-1990s and has remained in the Beni area of North Kivu. Analysts consider the group “dormant” with about 1,300 men. Peace negotiations between ADF/NALU, Uganda and the DRC began in 2009 with UN facilitation, but in April, the Congolese army blamed a deadly attack on a military training centre near Beni on a coalition of ADF/NALU and local Mai-Mai fighters.
- Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA)
Joseph Kony founded the “Holy Spirit Mobile Force 2” in northern Uganda in 1987 after a rebel group by the same name was crushed while opposing President Yoweri Museveni’s government. In 1989, Kony renamed the militia the Lord’s Resistance Army, claiming that his objective was the establishment of a Christian-inspired theocracy in Uganda.
The LRA first moved into Southern Sudan in the mid-1990s but the 2005 Sudanese peace agreement and the indictment of Kony by the ICC forced the group to cross into DRC’s Garamba National Park.
In December 2008, Ugandan, Southern Sudanese and Congolese armies launched a joint offensive in Garamba, but failed to wipe out the LRA leadership. The group, which is divided into small groups, move on foot across the Uélés districts of northeastern Congo, the east of the Central African Republic (CAR) and parts of Southern Sudan.
Between December 2007 and April 2010, the group is believed to have killed 1,796 civilians and abducted 2,377 in Congo. It is particularly notorious for forced recruitment of child soldiers, turning boys into killers and girls into porters or sex slaves. It also mutilates lips and ears to terrorize the population.
- Front for Patriotic Resistance in Ituri/Popular Front for Justice in Congo (FRPI/FPJC)
FRPI and its splinter group FPJC are active in the southern part of Ituri, where they battle government forces and UN peacekeepers. FRPI’s former commander Germain Katanga is on trial at the ICC with two other Ituri militia leaders for war crimes and crimes against humanity, including the recruitment of child soldiers, mass murder and rape. Analysts describe the group as “residual” yet its humanitarian toll remains high.
In 2009, about 5,000 people fled into the Mokato-Ngazi forest after fighting between the DRC army and FRPI/FPJC militants. When government forces and humanitarian agencies accessed the area three months later, an unknown number had starved to death. Jean-Claude Baraka, an FPJC leader, was recently arrested. But FRPI chief “Colonel Cobra” Matata, who had agreed to integrate the national army, reportedly deserted earlier this month to rejoin his militia in Ituri.
- Enyele/Independent Movement of Liberation and Allies (MILIA)
Ethnic tensions dating back to the colonial era flared up last November in northwestern Equateur province. Members of the Lobala group, known as “Enyele” after the name of the village where the violence erupted over fishing rights, first attacked the border town of Dongo and defeated police sent to quash them. Civilians fled across the river to the Republic of Congo, and only 20,000 residents have returned.
Adopting the acronym MILIA, they moved southwards across the jungle and stormed the provincial capital, Mbandaka, on 4 April. They also disrupted supplies as far as the eastern city of Kisangani.
On 5 May, the DRC arrested Ondjani Mangbama, the Enyele leader, but his status remains unclear. The Enyele insurrection began in former Congolese ruler Mobutu Sese Seko’s Equateur home province, now a stronghold of Jean-Pierre Bemba’s MLC opposition party.
- Armed forces of the DRC (FARDC)
The FARDC has been accused by human rights groups of involvement in criminal activities, but the government denies the accusations. In 2009, its 213th brigade was cited in the deaths of civilians in Lukweti, North Kivu, during the UN-backed Kimia 2 offensive against the FDLR.