For more than 15 years, a band of rebels calling themselves the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, known by the French acronym FDLR, has preyed on local communities in eastern Congo. They are notorious for their use of rape as a weapon to terrorize the local population and for exploiting the region’s vast mineral wealth, committing unconscionable abuses to maintain their grip on the illicit trade in conflict minerals.
Soldiers from Congo and its neighboring countries have long pursued the FDLR, whose leadership fled over the Rwanda-Congo border after taking part in Rwanda’s 1994 genocide. But the FDLR’s command center, located in the German town of Mannheim and operated by rebel group’s president, has been largely left untouched.
In a series of articles over the past few months, the German newspaper Die Tageszeitung, TAZ, sought to light a fire under German authorities by exposing the direct link between the insidious rebel group and its leader, Ignace Murwanashyaka, who is currently protected under Germany’s asylum law.
TAZ’s stories are in German (the originals are here, here, and here), but The New Times newspaper in Kigali, Rwanda published a piece this week that provides some details about what the German paper’s editors seek to do. Said Tageszeitung’s Africa editor to The New Times:
"We hope that this investigation will contribute towards raising the profile of this issue in Germany and encouraging the German authorities to take appropriate measures. It is clear that any European effort to bring peace to Eastern DRC has to involve moving against leaders of armed groups operating from Europe with impunity."
Last month, French internet company OVH dropped FDLR’s website from its server under pressure from a TAZ reporter who questioned why OVH would host a site operated by a group currently committing war crimes. (Even the U.N. wasn’t able to convince OVH to shut down the website, which goes to show the power of bad press.)
The website is back in operation now, but the TAZ investigations will hopefully continue to expose the links between the Europe-based FDLR leaders and the egregious abuses committed by the foot soldiers in Congo. Perhaps the German authorities will be forced to think more creatively about how to shut down the European branch of the FDLR if these stories generate a public outcry. (How would you feel if you read in your local paper that a person orchestrating attacks against civilians, in particular very violent rape, was living in your midst, being protected by your government?)
Just this week, Radio Okapi, a local station in eastern Congo, reported fresh attacks by the FDLR that left 10 people dead and 20 wounded near the Virunga National Park in North Kivu province. A U.N. spokesperson, speaking to a Bloomberg reporter in Congo’s capital of Kinshasa, confirmed the attack.
More than 1,000 civilians have been killed, 7,000 women and girls raped, and 900,000 people forced to flee their homes since a military operation against the FDLR began in January 2009.
NB: Longtime Congo watcher Jason Stearns published an insightful blog post yesterday about the activities of the FDLR diaspora, including some recommended steps to take for getting rid of the rebel group that “do not involve the massive displacement of 900,000+ people.”
Photo: Ignace Murwanashyaka