Securing Goma airport and border control: How FDLR became the backbone of FARDC

On 1 May 2024 at 08:50

The Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC) ongoing cooperation with the FDLR, a terrorist group opposing the Rwandan government, has consistently been a point of contention. Rwanda has repeatedly urged the DRC to disassociate from the group, though the latter appears unresponsive.

DRC has often claimed non-collaboration with FDLR, even though it eventually admitted its readiness to support anyone aiming to overthrow the Rwandan leadership. Rwanda insists that DRC’s dealings with FDLR should be seen as a national political issue rather than individual opportunism.

Various reports have shown close collaborations between the DRC military and FDLR, including weapon sharing and joint combat efforts. Some former FDLR members who chose to return to Rwanda, their country of origin, revealed significant motives behind the group’s close ties with the Congolese military.

Sergeant Tuyizere Mose, a former member of FDLR’s commando unit known as CRAP, disclosed that FDLR forces work closely with DRC’s government forces, suggesting that without them, the M23 rebel group would easily seize control. “Without FDLR’s involvement, M23 would be in Kinshasa overnight. Our CRAP soldiers could be stationed here for months without displacement due to the training we provide. Our only lack is a humane approach to coexist with the locals without discrimination,” he explained.

During his time in the DRC, Sgt. Tuyizere served in a heavy weaponry unit of the FARDC, fighting alongside M23. “We were trained by Israeli commandos, equipped with substantial training and powerful weaponry,” he added. Before battles, FDLR leadership would convince their troops they were fighting Rwandan soldiers instead of Congolese.

Sgt. Tuyizere highlighted the instrumental role of FDLR in controlling both the city and the Goma International Airport. “Since 2019, FDLR started managing the Goma International Airport, and from April 2023, this control became official. The DRC leadership explicitly allowed us to manage Goma to prevent its capture,” he stated.

Apart from managing the airport, FDLR also taxes goods from Bukavu and controls certain roads, profiting from the trade in valuable minerals. In 2023, when the DRC purchased military equipment, the first units to receive them were those belonging to CRAP, given the task of training state troops.

In November 2023, M23 decisively defeated FDLR and Congolese forces. The losses were blamed on Rwandan soldiers allegedly freshly trained in Israel. Following the defeat, Sgt. Tuyizere and his colleagues were deployed to the frontline, only to be encircled and significantly defeated by M23.

After witnessing the death and capture of his comrades by M23, Sgt. Tuyizere defected and surrendered to the UN mission, MONUSCO, exhausted by the conflict.

He urged other FDLR members, “Stop killing Congolese civilians accused of being Tutsis or spies for M23. Lay down your arms and join others in rebuilding the country.” He disclosed that FDLR’s orders before combat often involved targeting Tutsi Congolese as part of their operational strategy.

Born in 1998, Sgt. Tuyizere grew up within the ranks of FDLR but realized he had been exploited by those with hidden agendas, including property acquisition and evasion of justice, under the false promise of conquering Rwanda and claiming luxurious homes in Kigali.

Some former FDLR members who chose to return to Rwanda, their country of origin, revealed significant motives behind the group’s close ties with the Congolese military.