In an encouraging development this week, DRC rebel commander General Laurent Nkunda and his militia group, the National Council for the Defense of the People (CNDP), agreed to resume participation in a faltering peace process.
Observers, including MONUC, the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo, have recorded regular violations of a peace pact signed between the Congolese government and a number of rebel groups, including Nkunda’s, in January 2008. Signed in Goma, the capital of North Kivu Province, the agreement established a process to disarm and demobilize participating militia groups and integrate them into the Congolese army (FARDC). Previous efforts to integrate these armed groups into FARDC broke down in mid 2007, leading to fresh escalation of violence. Many considered the January 2008 agreement a “last chance” to bring peace to eastern DRC.
Last month, Nkunda and the CNDP suspended participation in the peace process as laid out in the recent agreement, arguing that the proper local decision bodies had not yet been established. A CNDP spokesperson announced on Thursday that these outstanding issues, from their perspective, had been satisfactory resolved.
General Nkunda, a former Congolese army general, claims to be fighting for the rights of eastern DRC’s Tutsi population, defending them from the imminent threat posed by Hutu extremist militias. These groups, the largest of which is known as the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDLR), are composed largely of former Rwandan Hutu militiamen who flooded into DRC after participating in the slaughter of over 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Nkunda allegedly receives support from the current Tutsi-dominated government of Rwanda.
Both Nkunda’s militias and FDLR have been accused of killing, raping, and injuring scores of noncombatant civilians in eastern DRC.
FDLR and other Hutu militia were not party to the January 2008 agreement. Rwanda and DRC have made previous commitments to disarm these groups, but so far have had little success. One condition of the January 2008 agreement was that the Congolese government would resume operations to disarm the Hutu militia.
While Nkunda and the CNDP have contributed greatly to the instability in eastern DRC, some argue that Nkunda’s continued insistence on disarmament of the FDLR has forced DRC’s government to address a threat that is impossible to ignore if long term peace and security are to be achieved.
And, while the process of neutralizing the FDLR certainly presents considerable challenges, and will inevitably require an impressive showing of political will from all sides, there are signs of progress on this front as well. On May 26, two FDLR splinter factions signed an agreement with the Congolese government and MONUC to disarm in return for various security guarantees.
Now it is up to all the parties involved, including the international community, to make sure that the momentum from these recent gains is not lost.