One of the longest-standing rebel groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo is facing a Friday deadline to disarm or face military action from U.N. peacekeepers and Congolese armed forces. Some members of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, FDLR, reportedly have surrendered, but the international community says it is not enough.
In July, regional heads of state gave the FDLR six months to fully disarm or face military action. That deadline comes January 2.
The group, which was formed by Hutu fighters responsible for the 1994 Rwandan genocide, has been accused of committing atrocities in the eastern Congo.
The Congolese military and the United Nations peacekeeping force MONUSCO have promised to take action against the FDLR if the rebels fail to lay down their weapons.
US envoy weighs in
In a call with reporters Tuesday, U.S. Special Envoy to the Great Lakes Region Russell Feingold said the United States also supports the use of military force against the group.
“As the group has clearly demonstrated over the past six months, that a purely voluntary surrender process will not work to end the threat from this illegitimate armed group. Instead, military action must be undertaken to pressure the FDLR to lay down its arms,” said Feingold.
Last Sunday about 150 FDLR soldiers reportedly surrendered to Congolese authorities in North Kivu province. Feingold said the latest estimates suggest about 1,400 fighters remain at large.
Rwanda, which considers the FDLR one of its greatest threats, disapproved of the decision to give the group more time to disarm.
Rwandan officials have called into question whether the Congolese army and U.N. forces are really ready to eliminate the rebels.
Special envoy Feingold dismissed these doubts.
“I have received repeated assurances from the key stakeholder countries that they are committed to ending the threat of the FDLR and are prepared to follow up that commitment with action,” he said.
In 2013 the same collaboration of U.N. and Congolese forces successfully defeated the M23 rebel group, which had seized control of territory in eastern Congo.
U.N. experts and rights groups had accused Rwanda of supporting the M23, in part to shore up its defenses against the FDLR.