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UN Affirms Commitment to Fighting Rwandan Rebels in Congo

FILE - M23 rebels withdraw from the Masisi and Sake areas in eastern Congo, Nov 30, 2012.
The United Nations mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, MONUSCO, has reaffirmed its commitment to neutralizing the armed groups that operate in the east. The mission was responding to concerns that a Tanzanian-led U.N. "intervention brigade" currently deploying in the DRC might not be committed to taking on the Rwandan rebel group FLDR.

Tanzania’s attitude toward the FDLR, a Congo-based Rwandan rebel group, is in question following reports of remarks made by Tanzania’s President Jakaya Kikwete to his Rwandan counterpart Paul Kagame.

The two men met last weekend at the African Union summit at Addis Ababa, where Kikwete is widely reported to have advised President Kagame to negotiate peace with the FDLR, whose members include men that took part in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Kikwete also reportedly suggested to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni that he should negotiate with the Ugandan rebel movement ADF/NALU, which is also based in Congo.

The comments prompted an angry reaction from Rwanda’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Louise Mushikwabo, who described them as "shocking."

Analyst Thierry Vircoulon covers the Great Lakes region for the International Crisis Group. He says that if Tanzania is in favor of negotiations between Kigali and the FDLR, this raises doubts about the U.N. intervention brigade's commitment to fighting the Rwandan rebels, as the brigade is commanded by a Tanzanian, and one of its three battalions is from Tanzania.

"The reports about Kikwete’s remarks are revealing as they suggest the brigade’s readiness to carry out offensive operations will be quite limited. Several high-level discussions in the past week have tended to play down the brigade’s offensive mandate," said Vircoulon.

VOA asked MONUSCO whether, in view of President Kikwete’s reported remarks, Tanzanian troops would be deployed against the FDLR and if so, whether they could be counted on to fight the rebels.

MONUSCO spokesman Manodge Mounoubai reaffirmed the brigade’s commitment to combating armed groups.

"The intervention brigade’s mandate is clear, to neutralize all the armed groups operating in the brigade’s zone of operations. In that zone there is not only the M23 Congolese rebel group but also the FDLR, and the brigade will be combating all those causing insecurity for the population," said Mounoubai.

Maria Lange, who works for the NGO International Alert in eastern Congo, said she was surprised at the reports of what the Tanzania president had said.

"It used to be quite a common position of many governments to be encouraging the Rwandan government to negotiate with the FDLR, but this is a position or a point of view which for the moment is not really advanced by most governments, so I am surprised to hear this position advanced. But in any case the Rwandan government’s position on this question is very clearly, and has been for years, that they will not negotiate with the FDLR," said Lange.

Doubts have also been raised about the commitment of another country contributing troops to the intervention brigade, South Africa. Analyst Timo Mueller, who works for the research organization the Enough Project in Goma, said that the deployment of the South African battalion is delayed perhaps because the South Africans are not happy with the U.N.’s choice of commanders for the brigade and for MONUSCO as a whole.

"There are rumors they are angry over the fact that a Tanzanian got the command position and that a Brazilian will take over the military section of MONUSCO. That might explain the delay in sending troops to, or reactivating troops in Goma," said Mueller.

Mueller said it is still not clear if South Africa will send a fresh contingent to Congo or will assign a battalion already with MONUSCO to work as part of the brigade.