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DR Congo: Who are the various rebel groups at war?

Since May the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo has seen renewed fighting as former rebel soldiers take up their arms once more against the army's regular forces. France 24 examines the various armed factions operating in the region.


The Democratic Republic of Congo’s eastern region has been plagued again by fighting between militias and army forces since early May, as one of the deadliest conflicts on the planet started up again. While civilians are the first victims of the conflict, the Rwandan and Congolese governments are accusing each other or supporting rival militias. But who exactly are the armed groups operating in this part of the country?

The M23 rebel group

The March 23 Movement – M23 in short – was formed in April 2012. It mainly comprises former members of the Tutsi National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), a former armed opposition group led by Laurent Nkunda until his arrest in January 2009. The group takes its name from a peace agreement signed on March 23, 2009 with the Congolese government.

The rebels claim that the treaty was never faithfully implemented, in particular the provisions stating that former militiamen be integrated into the DR Congo’s army, that their rank be recognised and that the former members of the CNDP join the central government.

According to a confidential UN report leaked in June, the M23 rebellion receives military support from Rwanda and Uganda while both of these countries have denied the accusations. For the past few months, the M23 rebellion has been threatening to advance on Goma, the regional capital of North Kivu, in eastern DRC.

The Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR)

Known by its French acronym FDLR, this Rwandan Hutu rebel group claims to defend the Hutus, who fled to DR Congo after the Rwandan genocide in 1994. But most observers say a number of its members come from the former Army for the Liberation of Rwanda, which took part in the massacre of Tutsis.

Rwanda has always accused DR Congo of supporting the FDLR, and relations have never thawed between the two countries, even after Congolese President Joseph Kabila let Rwandan troops hunt FDLR members in Congolese territory.

Mass rapes, massacres and other atrocities committed by the FDLR but also by the Congolese army in the Kivu province are regularly reported.

Maï Maï militias

The term Maï Maï (literally water water, no relation to Kenya’s Mau Mau rebellion) refers not to a specific political movement but to a broad range of armed groups active in the provinces of North and South Kivu.

These militias were formed by local warlords, tribal leaders, village heads or politically motivated fighters and bear names such as the Kivu Resistance and Defence Front and the Movement Against the Aggression of Zaïre. They became particularly active as communities organised their self-protection against the rising tide of violence in the region.

The Lord’s Rebel Army (LRA)

The Lord’s Rebel Army (LRA) was founded by Joseph Kony in the late 1980s in northern Uganda, with the goal of establishing a Christian theocracy based on the Ten Commandments.

The insurgency is believed to have recruited tens of thousands of child soldiers and displaced hundreds of thousands of civilians fleeing its guerrilla warfare. But it found itself considerably weakened by the Ugandan army’s counter-insurgency measures when the International Criminal Court launched an arrest warrant against Joseph Kony in 2005.

After signing a truce with the Ugandan government in 2006, the LRA withdrew to the north of DR Congo.

The Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo

The armed branch of the Union of Congolese Patriots political party has been accused of numerous abuses of human rights in the mineral-rich province of Ituri, in northeastern DR Congo, where it was involved in ethnic warfare from the early 2000s.

In 2006, the movement was weakened by the arrest of its leader Thomas Lubanga, who was sentenced last July to 14 years in prison by the International Criminal Court for the recruitment and use of child soldiers.



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