A new report expected to be released Wednesday describes the joint military operation of Congo and Rwanda to flush out Rwandan Hutu rebels from the Democratic Republic of Congo as a failure. The report says the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDLR) rebels are still attacking ordinary Congolese despite the offensive against them. But both Kinshasa and Kigali maintain the operation was a success. FDLR rebels have been in eastern Congo since the flight of Hutu extremists following their involvement in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
Fellel Lutaicheiowa is deputy governor of Goma, the capital of Congo's restive North Kivu province. He told VOA the aim of the military offensive was achieved.
"I think that the joint military Rwandese and Congolese forces have attained their objective because this operation destroyed all headquarters of this FDLR. And I think also, as you know, we had about six thousand Rwandese who went back to their country, but also, the Congolese army is continuing with the operation," Lutaicheiowa said.
He said Kinshasa is working with the UN Mission in the country (MONUC) to find ways of resolving the challenges the rebels present.
"I think that now FARDC (the Congolese national army) are planning with MONUC to finish this problem. Also, local leaders are continuing sensitization to see if this FDLR and many Rwandese refugees can come back to their own country without fighting," he said.
Lutaicheiowa said the rebels have been in Congo for a considerable amount of time, which makes it difficult for them to be dealt with decisively.
"You know, the FDLR have been in our country 15 years, and as you also know, the joint military operation took only one month. And in one month, we do not think that we could resolve all these problems. And now we have many of the rebels of the FDLR, about two thousand of them, who have been hiding in our bush. And I think we will have a solution with FARDC together with MONUC. And I do think that with this, we will have a solution about this challenge of FDLR," Lutaicheiowa said.
He said things are under control, although he would not divulge plans to deal with future threats of the rebels.
"As you know, we can't talk about this security operation. But we have to converse with our forces as now the operation taking place is to deal with this issue of FDLR. And I think that in a short time, we will have a solution to this," he said.
According to Kinshasa, the joint Rwandan-DRC forces accomplished 65 percent of the military operation against the Hutu rebels, dealing a heavy blow to their insurgency. The governments claimed satisfaction from the 334 child soldiers removed from FDLR control by the offensive. The joint operation was launched on Jan. 20, and reportedly led to the arrest of Edmond Garamba, the FDLR's spokesman.
The FLDR rebel group has often been accused of committing gross atrocities against Congolese citizens, including rapes, looting, and killings. The rebel group is also blamed for being the root cause of Congo's internal conflicts and external tensions with Rwanda. Under an African plan to restore stability in the Great Lakes region, Kinshasa and Kigali decided to join forces in December to uproot the longstanding, troublesome rebel insurgency.
Kinshasa invited thousands of Rwandan troops to join the anti-FDLR operation in January, citing article 91 of the Constitution. It marked a turnaround from mutual hostilities which led to a severance of their diplomatic relations in the 1990s.
The FDLR rebel group combines a mix of key members of the 1994 genocide, plus Hutu members of the former Rwandan army, and various other displaced Rwandan Hutus. During its lengthy stay in eastern Congo, the group fought alongside a former Congolese government to stave off the largest Congolese rebel movement at the time, the Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD).
The RCD was reportedly backed by the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan government, and is now part of Congo's transitional government, which officially ended five years of war in July, 2003.
So far, the UN Peacekeeping mission in Congo (MONUC) has been trying to help repatriate FDLR troops to Rwanda. On November 14, 2003, more than 100 heavily armed FDLR fighters crossed the border into Rwanda from the eastern Congolese town of Bukavu. Hundreds more had already started gathering in towns close to Bukavu. How many of the estimated 15- to 20-thousand FDLR fighters in eastern Congo will return ultimately depends on how many of them are granted amnesty, according to UN sources.