The Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) information minister says hundreds of rebels from the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) from South and North Kivu provinces have been disarming as part of the government’s program to improve security and stabilize the country.
Lambert Mende says the government in Kinshasa is working with its partners, including the administration in Rwanda, the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the U.N. peacekeeping mission (MONUSCO) and humanitarian groups to help the disarmed rebels to be repatriated to Rwanda.
He says the disarmament program is aimed at protecting unarmed civilians from rebel attacks and improving the country’s overall security outlook.
Mende says about 15 percent of the FDLR rebels are in government camps after they voluntarily disarmed.
“This followed very intense military pressure our army made of them and a call from President Joseph Kabila who offered them to disarm voluntarily so that they can avoid this military pressure,” said Mende. “We discussed with our partners … [To] help us to receive them, accommodate them, transport them and organize meetings with Rwanda and United Nations High Commission for Refugees to have them back home.”
The government’s disarmament program is expected to last between the next two to three weeks, according to Mende. He says the administration in Kinshasa expects other armed groups to also disarm.
Neighboring Rwanda has accused the FDLR of participating in the country’s 1994 genocide. Mende says some of the disarmed rebels participated in the genocide, while others are too young to have been involved.
“Some of them are genociders really, but others are not because I visited the camp the MONUSCO set up in Kanyabayonga, 200 kilometers from Goma, and I witnessed that a majority of them are less than 20 years. These young men of 15 years, 16, 17 you can’t call them genociders ... there is a lot of Congolese women who are linked with them, fiancé or wives and we have to take care of these compatriots.”
Eyewitnesses in the North Kivu provinces expressed surprise at the sight of the FDLR rebels’ disarmament, especially since the insurgent group has often attacked unarmed civilians in the area.
Mende says the administration in Kinshasa expects many more rebels from the FDLR to surrender and hand in their weapons. More than 200 of the rebels have handed their weapons to representatives of the government, according Mende.
“Those in North Kivu and South Kivu, they respond to one command. That is why we have a group already in North Kivu who gave back their guns and another group in South Kivu and we are following a time table, and we have discussed with them,” said Mende. “We are waiting for about 1,300 to 1,500,” he says, “this is the number for the FDLR remaining in our country.”