File this story in the “I’ll believe it when we see it” category:
AP reports that Congolese Lieutenant General John Numbi, chief of staff for the Congo-Rwanda joint military operation against the Rwandan Hutu militia known as the FDLR, claimed yesterday that the operation has “achieved 95 percent of its objectives” and that:
A farewell ceremony will take place Feb. 25 or 26 and we are going to escort all the Rwandan troops to the border without any exception.
This begs the question, what precisely were the objectives of the anti-FDLR operation?
In principle, between 3,000-7,000 Rwandan soldiers entered eastern Congo over President Obama’s inauguration weekend to hunt down FDLR forces, whose chief commanders are responsible for the 1994 Rwanda genocide and whose forces have been a destabilizing and threatening presence in eastern Congo for well over a decade.
In a clever quid pro quo, Congo let Rwanda back in to go after the FDLR, and Rwanda gave Congo help in ousting CNDP rebel commander Laurent Nkunda, who had been giving the Congolese army and all other armed groups a run for their money throughout the fall of 2008.
Although Lt. General Numbi seems to be ready to wrap things up, there are some obvious loose ends:
- Nkunda is still in Rwandan custody in an “undisclosed location.” (Congolese President Joseph Kabila said in early February that he is “working on” Nkunda’s extradition to Congo, while Rwanda noted that the timing and conditions of his release from their custody “were still up in the air.”)
- Although the repatriation of ex-FDLR combatants and their families is a positive sign, the FDLR has not by any stretch of the imagination been neutralized as a result of the joint operation. Human Rights Watch recently reported that FDLR forces “brutally slaughtered at least 100 Congolese civilians” between January 20 and February 8.
As Wronging Rights skillfully explained in a series of posts on Congo’s post-1994 wars, once a foreign army enters Congo, it is no easy task getting them to leave. Needless to say, Numbi and his Congolese army colleagues may have their work cut out for themselves in “escorting” the Rwandan troops to the border, in no small part because of Rwanda’s vested interest in Congo’s mineral trade.
And in the meantime, I do wonder about that last “5%” of unmet objectives…