For the past 15 years, approximately 40,000 Congolese Tutsi refugees have been living in neighboring Rwanda. These refugees fled Congo in the aftermath of the 1994 Rwanda genocide, when more than a million Rwandan Hutus – including the orchestrators of the slaughter in Rwanda that later formed the FDLR – sought refuge in eastern Congo.
While efforts to address the destabilizing presence of the FDLR in eastern Congo are the subject of intense analysis and debate, much less is written of the Congolese Tutsi refugees. Yet their fate is closely connected with the political turmoil in the North Kivu province. Ousted Congolese rebel leader Laurent Nkunda frequently cited the safe return of these refugees as a core demand.
The precise contours of the agreement between the Congolese and Rwandan governments that ousted Nkunda and allowed Rwandan forces to enter eastern Congo earlier this year remain murky, but it appears that the fate of Congolese Tutsi refugees is now under discussion. An excellent journalist (and good friend of mine) Jack Kahorha reported on negotiations getting underway in Goma, the capital of North Kivu.
You know the leader of the CNDP Laurent Nkunda all the time used to claim that there is need for the return of Congolese refugees and that was one of his complains. Now it looks like this meeting is going to resolve the problem of the refugee situation and we think that today and tomorrow’s meeting would focus on the modalities of the repatriation of the refugees.
While diplomats and analysts watch from the sidelines, it appears that the Congolese and Rwandan governments are beginning to sort through the issues that have helped drive conflict and atrocities in the region for many years. The challenge now for the international community is to facilitate and support a lasting détente between Kinshasa and Kigali, while simultaneously pressuring both sides to take tangible steps to improve safety and security for civilians and hold war criminals to account for their crimes.