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Congo: What’s happening in FDLR’s stronghold in Rutshuru?

By Timo Mueller

Editor’s note: Master student at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs Priyanka Johnson edited the post.

The northern territory of Rutshuru, in the North Kivu province of Eastern DRC, has for a long time now been one the strongholds of different factions of the FDLR (maps here and here). Drawing from the knowledge gained by a series of field visits in the latter half of June this year, in and around the administrative entity of Binza, certain identifiable trends in security dynamics are noteworthy.

The most dominant armed group in the area of Nyamilima-Katwiguru is the FDLR, which consists of three factions, namely FOCA, FPP and RUD. They reportedly operate in the north, southwest and east of Nyamilima respectively. Many elements of these FDLR factions do not live in camps but are embedded within local communities. Although they are led by notable experienced FDLR commanders, the factions in the area are reportedly not as well-structured as their counterparts in Walikale, Masisi or Lubero territories (North Kivu province).

Other groups active in the area include remnants of the groups Maï-Maï Shetani and Nyatura-MPA. However, a majority of both these groups surrendered en masse in late 2013 and early 2014 following the defeat of the M23 rebel group. Shetani remnants – estimated to be around 50 elements – allegedly support the Congolese army in altercations with the FDLR, while many elements of Nyatura-MPA are said to have joined FDLR/FPP, a faction reportedly led by successors of FDLR/Kasongo. All three FDLR factions and Nyatura-MPA recruit mostly Hutu, while Maï-Maï Shetani largely relies on youth from the Nande ethnic group. In Masisi and Rutshuru territories, Hutu constitute the majority, while in the province at large it is Nande that make up the majority.

The nearby Virunga National Park provides the groups with a range of lucrative resources such as timber, charcoal and wildlife. The park’s landscape also offers sanctuary from adversaries.

FDLR

The area has been dominated by the FDLR for a long time, even during the M23 rebellion from April 2012 until November 2013. As a successor to FLDR-SOKI and FDLR-KASONGO, FPP is the most dominant group in the area. Interestingly, many stakeholders called FPP a “false FDLR,” despite it being the biggest faction. The purported reason for this is that FPP reportedly heavily relies on Congolese Hutu youth and elements of Nyatura-MPA. As one interviewee alleged, “Of 50 FDLR-FPP elements, only 5 are Rwandans.” Another stakeholder estimated the proportion of Congolese youth inside FPP to be as high as 95%. While this is very likely an exaggeration it gives a sense of the group’s public perception as “false FDLR.”

The information below spells out reported current positions of FPP with an approximate number of elements. While efforts have been made to corroborate the information to the extent possible, the data is based on the perception of the interviewees and even then, serves as a snap shot in the time frame of late June. This is both due to the mobility and continuing DDR process resulting in reduction of the strength of the groups. Further, the names of many leaders are most likely aliases.

  • Katwiguru/ChezMaheshe
    • Capt. Senga + asst. Lt. Niyo (both are Congolese).
    • 20 elements.
  • Muzinga
    • Capt. Rupfu (Rwandan) + asst. Lt. Elia (Congolese).
    • 10 elements.
  • Mbugani (19kmoffKiwanja,Rubeguro)
    • Capt. Assumani (Rwandan) + asst. Lt. Yakobo (Congolese).
    • 10 elements.
  • Kigaligali (Headquarters). Note that others said that FPP’s HQwouldbeinKatwiguru.
    • Col. Dan, Capt. Bolingo, Adj.Gashubi, Adj. Alex, Yabiso, Claude, Maj. Ntabwaba, Capt. Odeyi (all Rwandan).
    • 30 elements.
  • Karabuge (8km off Buganza)
    • Col. Mateso, Lt. Col. Kambale (both Rwandan).
    • 80 elements.
  • Kilima-Nyuki (nexttoKarabuge).
    • Lt. Col. Kambale.
    • 15 elements.
  • Kasoso (+/-8kmsouthwestoffBuganza).
    • Maj. Kadaffi, Adj. Capt. Eric.
    • 25 elements.
  • Bisoso (8kmwestofNyamilima where MONUSCO’s COB is. The Congolese army has a position justtwokilometersoffBisoso).
    • Capt. Bernard, Lt. Yusufu.
    • 10 elements

FOCA

Main strongholds of FOCA reportedly include Kasave, Kikito, Kabuga, and Nyabanira, which are near Katwiguru. One informant estimated FOCA to have around 200 men.

FDLR’s relationship to the Congolese army (FARDC):

According to several interviewees, the FDLR currently does not enjoy an amicable relationship with the 107th regiment of the Congolese army led by Col. Blaise. “FARDC no longer cohabits with FDLR. They became enemies,” one stakeholder declared. This was corroborated by two observers, who stated “There is no relationship” and “FARDC does fight FDLR properly.” The army has been attacking FDLR in early and mid-June 2014 around Katwiguru. According to one testament, the army managed to disrupt FDLR’s fishing practices in the area and caused loss in FDLR’s communication equipment. The interviewee added that FARDC does not pursue FDLR in earnest, allowing FDLR to come back to retaliate.

The FDLR alleges that the army collaborates with remnants of Maï-Maï Shetani. Unfortunately, this could not be corroborated. MONUSCO has reportedly not been involved in the confrontation. “FDLR has not directly attacked us,” a peacekeeper said. Asked whether UAVs have been active in around Katwiguru, two interviewees said “We have never heard them.”

As for the conduct of the regiment, there were competing accounts. In Nyamilima, interviewees  positively remarked on the FARDC: “The army generally behaves well” or “FARDC behaves reasonable in Nyamilima.” In Katwiguru, however, information about reported misconduct of the 107th was reported. While this remains an allegation, MONUSCO is well-advised to probe into the matter. In earlier meetings with the peacekeeping mission, the army’s conduct was descried as “Ok, not a problem, not an issue.”

Resources:

Asked how the FDLR factions are financing their activities, interviewees mentioned a range of options, including illicit taxation, pillaging, hunting, and donations by locals.

Surrenders:

In the areas visited, interviewees did not report on increased surrenders by the FDLR. In all of 2014, MONUSCO reportedly received a mere 25 FDLR elements.This stands in contract to developments elsewhere in the province: On 30 May, 105 FDLR combatants surrendered in Kateku, North Kivu. On 9 June, FDLR surrendered 83 combatants, 225 dependents, 83 light weapons and three heavy weapons in Kigogo (Mwenga territory, South Kivu province).

Shetani:

Following the defeat of its ally M23 in November 2013, the rebel group Maï-Maï Shetani (also called FPD) surrendered en masse in late 2013 and early 2014. In January 2014, the MONUSCO camps in Nyamilima reportedly received 89 Shetani elements led by Col. Jado. Unfortunately, they only surrendered eight arms. The leader Kakule Muhima aka Shetani, currently imprisoned in Kinshasa, is said to have been replaced by Charles Bukande and Maj. Magumu Roger. (Another interviewee reported that a man by the name of Kaserega allegedly replaced Shetani.) Bukande and Roge have reportedly recruited 44 elements (mostly child soldiers) as of late. While this is subject to further verification, it seems very likely that the group is no longer as strong and structured as it used to be during the M23 rebellion.

M23:

As for the M23, stakeholders interviewed did not hear of any large-scale returns, regrouping, or training camps largely because Binza was not a M23-held area.

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