Rwanda withdraws unaccounted for forces from Eastern Congo

Rwandan troops leaving Goma in February 2009 after the joint force Rwanda-DRC completed its mission

It has been for long known as an open secret that, since 1998 when Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda coalition invaded the Democratic Republic of Congo for the second time, Rwandan forces did not totally withdraw from Eastern Congo.

Despite several regional agreements to stabilise the region, where numerous militia groups coexist and fight each other occasionally, until today, Rwandan presence in Congolese provinces of Northern and Southern Kivu has been persistent under different forms.

In 2009, between Kinshasa and Kigali, there was even an official agreement to have a joint force to go after FDLR, hutu rebel movement, which is reminiscent from the Rwandan refugees of 1994 who fled in their hundreds of thousands into DRC when Kagame’s RPF took power in July 1994.

The joint force entered DRC on 20 January 2009 and officially all Rwandan forces returned home on 27 February 2009. For a month long campaign or so to rout out FDLR, the force had managed to destroy the rebel headquarters in Masisi area.

In the light of the current crisis evolving around M23 rebellion, and following international outcry against its Rwandan support, Kigali seems pushed to showing positive signs of not being seen as the root cause of regional instability. Initial pressure was translated into cutting aid by major donor countries.

A press release published this week by Rwandan defence department indicates that further to changes in operational environment, Rwanda had decided to withdraw its forces from Eastern Congo [Rutsuru], this apparently after consultations with Monusco and DRC authorities; but on the Congolese side, the government spokesman said he was not aware of “unauthorized presence of Rwandan forces after joint operations since February 25, 2009.”

Whatever the official positions in Kigali and Kinshasa, the withdraw of that force can only be considered in a more conciliatory perspective. Without complying with persistent demands to Kagame to restrain his support to M23, Rwanda could suffer more sanctions, since even its recent intervention at the Security Council to explain its stand on the allegations did not convince anyone.

But one could wonder again why Rwanda does not want apparently to leave Eastern Congo all together. There has always been that argument that Kagame is enriching himself and exploiting Congolese mineral resources to develop Kigali [there is no doubt that some of the flashing assets built in recent years in that city are from the plundering of DRC]. That is an incontestable reality for informed sources.

What maybe most of those trying to follow and understand the complexity of Eastern Congo context  could probably be missing out is the history of the populations established in the region for many years and how their interrelations have evolved from the past until recently, with the influence of violent and extremely tragic conflicts.

Unless there is strong willingness particularly from Rwanda to stop its greed towards Congolese resources, and DRC authorities to assert their responsibilities for administration and safety for populations, and fair and effective redistribution of land especially in the region, instability can carry on forever. Striping excessive and unjustifiable historical privileges over land need to be looked into seriously, without ignoring nationality issues.

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