In the UN’s gun sights: one of DRC’s most infamous rebel groups

In the coming days a specialist offensive unit of the UN’s military mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo is expected to launch operations, together with the Congolese army, against a rebel group that has caused havoc in the east of the country for the past 20 years.

Earlier this month the Security Council authorized the operation against the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), which will be carried out by the Force Intervention Brigade of UN’s Stabilisation Mission in DRC (MONUSCO).

IRIN highlights some key background facts about the FDLR as context for the coming offensive.

• The FDLR was founded by remnants of the Hutu Interahamwe militia and ex-Rwandan Armed Forces who did much of the killing during Rwanda’s 1994 genocide.

• The group stands accused of an array of egregious crimes, including killing and wide scale rape. Several of its leaders have been indicted for war crimes, some in relation to the genocide.

• Once boasting some 20,000 Rwandan fighters, the FDLR now has just a couple of thousand, many of them Congolese Hutus. Over the years, thousands of fighters and their dependents have handed themselves in for demobilization and return to Rwanda.

• The Security Council authorized the operation because the FDLR, except for a handful of fighters, ignored a deadline to disarm by 2 January, 2015.

• This is not the first time an offensive has been launched against the FDLR. With UN backing, DRC and Rwandan forces attacked in 2009, with disastrous consequences: almost one million civilians fled their homes. Now, concerns have again been raised about humanitarian repercussions, especially with regard to accessing needy populations.

• What’s left of the FDLR live in hard-to-access mountainous forests and swampy areas, often intermingled with civilians, in an area roughly the size of Belgium. This will greatly complicate the offensive.

• The position of Tanzania, which has troops in the Force Intervention Brigade, is ambiguous. While President Jakaya Kikwete said earlier this month he supported the offensive, he had previously called on Rwanda to try to negotiate with the FDLR. In 2014 his government described the group as “freedom fighters”.

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