On December 10, rebel leader Paluku Hilaire Kombi, commander of roughly 280 rebel troops, surrendered to the Congolese army. He reportedly turned himself in, along with five officers to the Congolese army in the village of Mbwavinywa in southern Lubero territory, North Kivu. Earlier on November 26, Governor of North Kivu Julien Paluku urged him and other groups in Beni and Lubero territories to give up on their insurgent activities. This stunning development is part of a larger defection trend that escalated after the army, along with the United Nations Force Intervention Brigade, defeated the M23 rebel group in early November. While this is a very promising trend, the U.S. and U.N. Special Envoys Russ Feingold and Mary Robinson should quickly urge the Congolese government to act now to implement a new robust demobilization, disarmament, and reintegration, or DDR, program. Without this more robust program, the trend is at risk of reversing.
After operating in Congo for more than a decade, the U.N. peacekeeping mission, MONUSCO, has taken on a more vigorous mandate. Following a decision in March 2013 by the Security Council, the U.N. tasked the Force Intervention Brigade with carrying out targeted operations to neutralize armed groups and contribute to civilian security and political stability.
Since the demise of the M23, elements of over 20 rebel groups across eastern Congo have either surrendered to the Congolese army or offered to lay down their weapons. For example:
During a speech in Goma on November 29, President Joseph Kabila asserted that over 4,000 rebels have already entered demobilization camps in eastern Congo. In contrast, on December 13, the U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said some 2,300 rebels had surrendered their weapons in the past two months or so.
In other developments, the rebel group ADF-NALU is also reportedly fleeing from locations in Beni territory towards Orientale Province since early December. But while on the run, the group allegedly slaughtered 21 civilians including women and children in the village of Musuku in Rwenzori, Beni Territory, North Kivu.
Meanwhile, on December 8, MONUSCO stepped up its pressure on armed groups, offering rebel groups present in Ituri the chance to surrender. The groups include Cobra Matata’s FRPI, Morgan’s Maï-Maï Simba, FLPC, and the Ugandan Islamist group, the ADF. A day later, five officers of the rebel group MAC conceded in Walikale. On the same day, MONUSCO launched its first operations against the FDLR in Masisi and Walikale territories. Meanwhile, on December 10, the Governments of Congo and Burundi pledged to strengthen their efforts to neutralize the rebel group FNL.
The surrender of Hilaire Kombi and the pledge of other rebel groups to lay down their arms is a promising development. However, it must be accompanied by a robust and better designed DDR program from the Congolese government. While the Government of Congo announced a new plan in late November, it has yet to be publicized and operationalized (for earlier concept papers, see here and here; MONUSCO had urged the government to finish its plan earlier on November 13). Any DDR program must offer long-term support for ex-combatants and their home communities, real security guarantees, and sustainable livelihood alternatives without inducing others to join rebel groups to reap the DDR benefits.
After a two-week visit in Goma, DRC’s defense minister Luba Ntambo highlighted on December 4 the lack of funding and logistics. “Old DDR programs have benefited substantially from U.N. support, and this one won’t be an exception,” he told reporters. “There are still some issues [re: implementation and financial management] between GoDRC and MONUSCO that we need to settle,” he added.
On December 10, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, or OCHA, deplored the conditions in the temporary disarmament camp in Bweremana, Masisi territory. According to a MONUSCO representative, there are 1,933 ex-combatants with 958 dependents in the Bweremana demobilization camp, all expecting to benefit from DDR packages. Similarly, further north in Beni territory, North Kivu, civil society spokesperson, Lawyer Omar Kavota told Enough Project earlier on Friday:
“[Congolese] army troops are sharing the same camp with the [surrendered] rebels. Their living conditions [in these camps] don’t encourage other defections.”
In addition, an army commander in Beni shared his concerns with the Enough Project:
“[w]e’re concerned the [surrendered] rebels would possibly leak strategic information to the ADF [a rebel group the army is considering to launch operations against in due time] because they can see our equipment and operation movements.”
To reiterate, the recent surrenders are a very positive development but if the Congolese government together with international partners including MONUSCO do not act swiftly and put in place a robust DDR plan, the momentum might wane so quickly.
Additional resources on this topic:
For more on armed groups, see Enough Project’s table detailing 28 armed groups and reports by the Rift Valley Institute. In addition, PhD student Christoph Vogel provides a comprehensive map of armed groups.