FDLR was established by remnant masterminds of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
The Congolese Minister of Communication and Government Spokesperson, Patrick Muyaya has welcomed the report considering it a success in diplomacy because it contains findings in favour of his country’s allegations that Rwandan soldiers are present in DRC.
In late May and early June 2022, the report indicates that RDF conducted operations against rebel groups including FDLR-FOCA and RUD Urunana near Kibumba, in the area between the Nyamulagira and Nyiragongo volcanoes, and against Collectif des mouvements pour le changement /Forces de Défense du Peuple (CMC/FDP) in the areas around Rugari and Rumangabo.
Even though DRC welcomed most of its findings, the report which has not yet been officially published validates several concerns voiced by the Government of Rwanda including the collaboration between FARDC and FDLR.
Collaboration between FARDC and armed groups
From the last months of 2021, M23 rebel group continued to intensify operations against Congolese Army demanding the government to respect signed peace accords.
Instead of implementing signed accords, FARDC attacked M23 which responded and quelled the government’s army from different bases and seized Bunagana town at DRC’s border with Uganda.
For the past four months, M23 continued to accuse Congolese Army of attacking its bases in collaboration with different armed groups including FDLR.
The collaboration was also confirmed by the Government of Rwanda.
The report of UN Group of Experts reads that some armed groups gathered in Pinga, an area situated between Walikale and Masisi territories in North Kivu on 8th and 9th May 2022 where they forged a coalition.
Initially planned to define the armed groups’ position in relation to the Nairobi process, the report says, the coalition rather took a stand against M23.
The meeting brought together rival armed groups including the Nduma défense du Congo-Rénové (NDC-R) faction of sanctioned individual Guidon Mwisa Shimiray, the Alliance des patriotes pour un Congo libre et souverain (APCLS) represented by Janvier Karairi Buingo, the CMC/FDP led by Dominique Ndaruhuste alias Domi, and the Nyatura-Abazungu (Alliance of Congolese Nationalists for the Defense of Human Rights/ Alliance des forces pour la défense du peuple -ANCDH/AFDP) led by Jean-Marie Bonane.
“Although they do not appear on the outcome documents of the Pinga meeting, the Group was informed that FDLR Colonel Silencieux and FDLR Colonel Potifaro were also present. The Pinga meeting was also attended by FARDC Colonel Salomon Tokolonga [3411th regiment], in charge of operations and military intelligence who can be identified in the pictures of the meeting,” reads part of the report.
It further indicates that two major decisions were taken during the Pinga meeting.
Firstly, it was agreed that, under the agreed truce, armed groups would refrain from attacking each other. Secondly, it was decided to create a coalition to join forces with the FARDC to fight against M23 and its allies. According to witnesses who attended the meeting, armed groups leaders proposed to mobilise close to 600 combatants to support the FARDC under an armed fight qualified as “self-defence”.
“The presence of FARDC Colonel Tokolonga can be interpreted, at least, as an apparent endorsement by some FARDC members of the armed groups’ coalition and the official recognition of the cooperation of some FARDC members with this coalition. The Group met Colonel Tokolonga in Rugari on 7 June 2022, and notes that his hierarchy said it was unaware of the reasons for his prolonged stay in Rugari, a known FDLR and CMC/FDP stronghold, as also observed by the Group,” added the report.
Colonel Tokolonga is a former commander of Mai Mai armed group.
Support from FARDC
In several documents, videos and audio messages reportedly analysed by the Group, armed group leaders announced the mobilisation of their combatants in the fight against M23. For instance, in three videos of 21st June 2022, CMC/FDP spokesperson Jules Mulumba, surrounded by many armed combatants, expressed CMC/FDP readiness to fight against M23, Rwandan and Ugandan forces, and criticized the DRC Government and MONUSCO for still labelling CMC/FDP as “a negative force”.
The report reads that armed groups’ leaders, combatants and ex-combatants confirmed to the Group their involvement - either alone or jointly with some FARDC soldiers - in the fighting against M23.
“For example, ex-combatants and armed groups leaders reported to the Group that CMC/FDP, APCLS and FDLR combatants fought alongside some FARDC members around Bambu and Rugari in late May and early June 2022,” reads the report in part.
As the report goes, when the FARDC camp in Rumangabo was captured by M23 on 25th May 2022, armed groups’ combatants backed by some FARDC members launched a counterattack on 26th May 2022.
Several sources reported to have seen a group of 150 to 200 FDLR combatants close to the camp in Rumangabo a few hours before the counterattack. Else, the Group of Experts revealed that a video filmed on 26th May 2022 shows a group of armed groups’ combatants in the camp in Rumangabo and chanting slogans.
Moreover, during a meeting with the Group, the CMC/FDP spokesperson claimed victory in the counterattack on the camp in Rumangabo and told the Group that CMC/FDP and FDLR had continued to engage against M23/ARC soldiers in the area around Rumangabo and Rugari.
The Group observed armed groups combatants alongside some FARDC members in the Rumangabo camp on 9th June 2022.
Several ex-combatants and combatants, civil society sources and local authorities reported that following the Pinga meeting, members of the coalition of armed groups received weapons and ammunition from some FARDC members on several occasions.
One eyewitness, civil society actors and one source close to NDC-R Guidon faction informed the Group that, on 30th May 2022, a certain “General” Kassie from APCLS met with a commander of the 34016th regiment in Kitchanga, and received arms and ammunition as well as food stuff.
Another combatant said that his Mai Mai group had received weapons but that the FARDC colonel who had handed over the weapons and ammunition alleged that they had to be returned to the FARDC once M23/ARC was defeated.
“Local authorities, civil society sources, eyewitnesses and DRC security forces attested that since late May 2022, FDLR combatants in and around Rugari were better equipped and wore newly received uniforms,” adds the report.
Rockets shelled in Musanze
On 23rd May 2022, the Rwandan Government reported cross-border shelling by the FARDC on its territory in Kinigi and Nyange sectors of Musanze district, and in Gahunga sector Burera district. The Expanded Joint Verification Mechanism (EJVM) reported a total of eight 122 mm rockets shelled on Rwandan territory, seriously injuring two civilians and damaging infrastructure.
The EJVM is a mechanism of the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) composed of military officers from the 12 member countries that is charged with monitoring and verification of border violations between DRC and neighbouring countries.
The report has however indicated that the EJVM which conducted onsite investigations, could not establish the origin of the artillery shelling.
“According to three independent sources, two of whom with close ties to armed groups active in Rutshuru territory, Colonel Ruvugayimikore Protogène, alias Ruhinda, of FDLR ordered the shelling of Rwandan villages by his troops,” reads an extract from the report.
When contacted by the Group, the report says, the FDLR spokesperson denied the group’s involvement in the shelling.
The group of experts disclosed that it continued its investigations to identify the origin of the artillery shelling which hit Musanze and Burera districts, as well as those
responsible for ordering or executing the shelling.
“The Group notes that the FARDC has 122 mm capability, but that this type of artillery ammunition has not yet been documented by the Group with FDLR,” reveals the report.
Denouncing collaboration with FDLR
Armed groups involvement, in particular FDLR participation, in operations against M23 was denounced. In a letter dated 6th June 2022 to the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary General (SRSG) in the DRC and Head of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), Ms. Bintou Keita, M23 president Bertrand Bisimwa denounced the participation of FDLR in the fight with FARDC. On several occasions, the Rwandan Government also accused the FARDC of using FDLR as a proxy.
The FARDC spokesperson of the military governor of North Kivu, General Ekenge, told the Group that the FARDC did not rely on armed groups when fighting against M23 even though he acknowledged that the FARDC faced challenges in mobilising its troops to the adequate level. Likewise, the Sokola II spokesperson in Kiwanja, Rutshuru territory, refuted the M23 claims that the FARDC used proxies.
“However, in late May and early June 2022, Brigadier-General Peter Cirimwami told to reliable sources of the Group that, de facto, the FARDC fought shoulder to shoulder with armed groups against M23,” adds the report.
In a statement of 12th May 2022, President Tshisekedi explicitly denounced the possibility of the FARDC using armed groups as proxies and said, “we do not extinguish fire by throwing oil on it”.
On 6 July 2022, following persistent allegations of the FARDC using local armed groups as proxies in Rutshuru territory, General Cirimwami was reassigned to Ituri province and replaced by General Clément Bitangalo.
Since the intensification of M23 operations, the group of experts documented a worrying proliferation of xenophobic and hate speech and discourses inciting discrimination, hostility and violence targeting Rwandophone populations, in particular the Banyamulenge and Tutsi communities, leading at times to acts of violence against members of these communities.
Part of such acts pointed out by the report is a speech in front of his officers on 25th May 2022 where the North Kivu Deputy Police Commissioner, General Aba Van Ang, encouraged civilians to take up machetes to defend Goma against the enemy. Justin Bitakwira Bihona-Hayi, a former national minister and president of the Alliance pour la République et la conscience nationale (ARCN) political party called for every Congolese to stand up against the enemy and for the DRC Government to identify “infiltrators”.
The members of the Banyamulenge and Tutsi communities interviewed by the Group in North Kivu and South Kivu reported that, based on their perceived morphology and language, they were repeatedly told by various individuals, including some FARDC members, that they were not DRC citizens, that they were M23 members or supporting the M23 or Rwanda, and that they should return to Rwanda.
Sometimes, they were also threatened to be cut with machetes.
Will Nairobi Process materialize?
Recently, it was agreed that joint forces from the East African Community (EAC) will be deployed to disarm armed groups in DRC.
The troops will be deployed to North Kivu, South Kivu, Iruri and Uele provinces.
The report indicates that Tanzania has declined to take part in the force while the DRC authorities requested that Rwanda deploy within its own borders only.
Even though the Government of the DRC expressed, in principle, its support to the planned deployment of the regional force on its territory, several DRC political actors, civil society organizations and armed groups reacted to the planned deployment of the regional force with concern and skepticism.
In the aftermath of M23 taking control of Bunagana, the speaker of the DRC parliament, Christophe Mboso, called for the suspension of the military cooperation with Uganda. FARDC and military intelligence sources pointed to the lack of support to the FARDC from the UPDF when M23 took control of Bunagana questioning the commitment of the Government of Uganda to peace in the DRC.
On 13th June 2022, the Government of the DRC froze bilateral relations with Rwanda.
Some civil society actors have outrightly rejected the planned deployment while others asked for the withdrawal from the regional force of some countries, including Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi.
Some civil society actors as well as political and FARDC sources stressed that the three countries have a record of involvement in proxy wars in the DRC and have had for decades contributed to the chronic instability in the DRC.
Meanwhile, Congolese have been staging protests demanding MONUSCO to leave the country over failure to restore peace despite its presence for 20 years.