Rwandan, Congolese troops hunt for Hutu rebels

Up to 3,500 Rwandan soldiers have crossed into the Democratic Republic of Congo's North Kivu region to hunt down defiant Rwandan Hutu rebels in a joint mission with the Congolese army. UN peacekeepers are barred from witnessing operations.


For the first time in a complex and enduring conflict, the governments of Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo have decided to join their military forces in order to hunt down and quash Hutu rebels based in eastern Congo.


Up to 3,500 Rwandan troops have crossed the border into Congo’s North Kivu region, according to MONUC, the UN mission in Congo. The Congolese army has called on Hutu rebel groups to surrender.


Thought to be 6,000-strong, the Hutu rebels of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) have been based in the jungle-covered region for more than a decade. The FDLR was founded by Hutus who fled Rwanda after that country’s 1994 genocide, and includes members of the interahamwe militias responsible for the killings.


The Hutu rebels have been a source of tension between Rwanda and Congo for years, with Rwanda frustrated at the failure of the Congolese military to take effective action against the FDLR fighters. Rwanda has several times sent troops across the border to fight the FDLR, but this is the first time they have done so in cooperation with the Congolese military.


Further north, the Ugandan army is also conducting an operation on Congolese soil, against members of the Ugandan rebel group the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). That operation, launched Dec. 14, appears to have failed, with LRA leader Joseph Kony escaping the initial attack and his group carrying out reprisals against Congolese civilians.


Between 1998 and 2003, troops and rebels from Congo and a half-dozen neighbouring countries - including Rwanda and Uganda - fought in a complex war that is estimated to have caused the death of 5.8 million people, mostly from disease and starvation.

'Africa's World War 2'

“This can almost be considered as Africa’s WW2, because of the numerous states involved,” said Douglas Yates, a political science professor at the American University in Paris and an Africa specialist. “The battleground is in the DRC, but the region borders with Uganda, and other countries offer support to the different actors in this conflict.”

No violence has been reported since the joint Congo-Rwanda operation was launched on Tuesday, although UN observers posted in the region have been banned from witnessing the operations.

According to UN officials, around half the Rwandan force is headed west to the Masisi and Mushaki strongholds of the FDLR rebels, about 100 kilometres (60 miles) east of the regional capital Goma.


Asked about the paradox of Congo allowing Rwandan troops into its territory, André Guichaoua, a Rwanda expert and Sorbonne university professor, told FRANCE 24 that “this operation will give DRC authorities access to zones that are currently beyond its control. All this, paradoxically, thanks to the Rwandans.”

Minerals are a top priority in the conflict, according to Yates. “In the region there are vast resources such as coltan, which is used in portable telephones and various tin-like minerals used for computers. These are currently being smuggled out of the country and sold illegally by the rebels.”

The Congolese are uneasy

The Rwandan entry has stirred unease among the Congolese, especially since memories are still fresh of violent Kigali-backed rebellions in the mineral-rich region, like the recent battles between Hutus and Laurent Nkunda’s Tutsi forces.

“The Congolese parliament was simply not consulted about this operation” said Arnaud Zajtman, FRANCE 24's correspondent on the ground. “The order came directly from the top.”


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