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Forces Democratiques de Liberation du Rwanda (FDLR)
(Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda)

The FDLR (Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda) was based in eastern Congo following the flight of Hutu extremists to eastern Congo after their involvement in the 1994 Rwandan genocide. The FDLR rebel group was comprised of key members of the 1994 genocide, plus Hutu members of the former Rwandan army, as well as a mix of displaced Rwandan Hutus. The group had been based in eastern Congo for many years, fighting alongside the former Congolese government in its battle to stave off the largest Congolese rebel movement at the time - RCD-Goma (Rally for Congolese Democracy). RCD-Goma was backed by the Tutsi-dominated Rwanda government and was now part of the new transitional government in Congo, which officially ended five years of war in July 2003.

There were reports in 2022 that some units of the DRC armed forces (FARDC) collaborated with the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), an armed group which had previously carried out attacks against Rwanda and had long been linked to genocide crimes which occurred in Rwanda in 1994. There were reports of Rwanda Defense Force incursions into DRC territory ostensibly to take actions against the FDLR, although there were no indications of deliberate killings of civilians or noncombatants. Reports indicated during hostilities M23 deliberately targeted and killed civilians, including children.

The UN mission in Congo had been trying to help repatriate FDLR troops to Rwanda. On 14 November 2003 more than 100 heavily-armed FDLR fighters crossed the border into Rwanda from the eastern Congolese town of Bukavu. Hundreds more had already started gathering in towns close to Bukavu. How many of the estimated 15 to 20-thousand FDLR fighters in eastern Congo will repatriate depends on how many of them are granted amnesty, according to UN sources.

On 16 November 2003 the top Rwandan Hutu rebel commander based in the Democratic Republic of Congo formally surrendered to the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan government. Rwandan Hutu leader Paul Rwarakabije and several of his officers flew into the Rwandan capital, Kigali, to be greeted by top Rwandan officials eager to display a political victory over the Hutu-rebel movement. The sudden surrender of the top officials followed direct discussions between the Rwandan government and the rebel group. Rwandan officials emphasized that the surrender had nothing to do with either the UN mission in Congo or the new Congolese government.

Mr. Rwarakabije himself does not have a record of being involved in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, having merely led attacks against northern Rwanda between 1997 and 2000. As such, he was expected to receive some sort of political amnesty from the Rwandan government, in return for his surrender, although this had not been made clear.

By late Jnuary 2004 thousands of Rwandan Hutu rebels belonging to the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) were being blocked by Hutu hard-liners from returning home to Rwanda. The United Nations said about three-thousand members of the Hutu FDLR rebel movement, some of whose members were involved in the 1994 Rwandan massacre of some 800-thousand Tutsis and moderate Hutus, had been blocked from re-entering Rwanda. The hard-liners have blocked off strategic exit points from forests in the eastern province of North Kivu near the Rwandan border and have been telling returnees that they will be prosecuted in Rwanda, according to sources within the UN mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The FDLR had fought alongside the former Congolese government against Rwandan backed Congolese rebels who are now part of a power sharing government in Congo. UN officials in Congo said they were optimistic that Hutu rebels would return home after the surrender of FDLR leader Major General Paul Rwarakabije in November 2003. But General Rwarakabije was seen as a moderate member of his movement who was not even officially named as a perpetrator of genocide. Of the 15,000 Rwandan Hutu combatants believed to be in eastern Congo, less than a third had been repatriated by the end of 2003. Congo's new government said it will not tolerate the presence of foreign armed groups in the country for much longer.

By 2007 foreign armed groups operating in the DRC were not just an internal problem; they are also a source of friction between the Congo and its neighbors. While the number of foreign fighters had diminished in recent years, they still pose a threat to a country's overall security and stability, and the Armed Forces of DR Congo [FARDC] had been largely unable to eliminate them. The FDLR, formed from the remnants of the Army for the Liberation of Rwanda and former Interahamwe fighters, remains the largest of these groups, with approximately 6,000-8,000 combatants in the Kivus. Among the leadership of the FDLR/Interahamwe are a number of suspected or know "genocidaires," individuals implicated in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

In January 2009, the DRC and Rwanda agreed to cooperate to combat and neutralize rebel forces in the eastern provinces of North Kivu and South Kivu, a source of tension between the two countries for over a decade, a scourge on the civilian population, and the primary driver of instability in the Great Lakes region. While there was probably no written agreement between the two governments, the broad outlines of the rapprochement were worked out between a small group on each side, and the general content appeared clear.

The DRC agreed to allow Rwandan forces to enter DRC territory to participate in joint military operations against the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a rebel group composed of Rwandan Hutus, many of whom were remnants of the genocidaires who fled into the DRC in 1994. The rapprochement was a courageous political decision by DRC President Kabila, as he faced vocal opposition from many against improving relations with its eastern neighbor, which had twice invaded the Zaire/DRC since 1996.

The joint DRC-Rwandan military operations, Umoja Wetu, "Our Unity" in Swahili -- began in mid-January 2009 and concluded in March when Rwandan forces withdrew. Umoja Wetu was followed by the Kimia II operation, with the DRC continuing to pursue the FDLR with logistical support from the United Nations Mission in Congo (MONUC). The goals of the military operations were to capture or kill those FDLR elements that were unwilling to repatriate to Rwanda; dislodge the FDLR from lucrative positions controlling mines in the region; and to improve security for the civilian population.

While no one expected the operations to completely "eliminate" the FDLR, there were tangible results: 1,114 FDLR were killed and 1,522 combatants and 2,187 of their dependents were repatriated to Rwanda; the remaining FDLR were pushed deeper into the forest, away from larger population centers and major commercial sites, such as mines; and several hundred thousand Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) were able to return to their homes. However, the operations also provoked a spike in human rights abuses against the civilian population, both acts of retribution by the FDLR, as well as abuses committed by undisciplined Congolese armed forces (FARDC) elements. As many as 1,714 civilians were killed as a result of the military operations. Major human rights organizations, some international donors, and even some within the UN criticized the military operations, maintaining the suffering of the civilian population and newly created IDPs greatly outweighed any benefits.

On 01 January 2010, the Congolese armed forces (FARDC) and MONUC began a new phase of military operations, Amani Leo, against the FDLR. While the overall goals are similar to Kimia II and Umoja Wetu, there was a slight shift in emphasis. Most importantly, MONUC had conditioned its support to specific Congolese armed forces (FARDC) units based on human rights vetting and battlefield comportment. This represents a reinforcement of MONUC's civilian protection mandate under the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1906. Amani Leo also planned fewer, but better targeted operations against FDLR leadership and FDLR economic sites, working to re-establish state authority in areas recently taken back from the rebels.

On July 13th, 2012 the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for a Rwandan Hutu militia leader accused of war crimes in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The court said Sylvestre Mudacumura was wanted on five counts of crimes against humanity and nine counts of war crimes, including murder, rape and mutilation. Mudacumura was a military commander for the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, known as the FDLR. The court said the rebel group, based in the eastern DRC, attacked civilians in 2009 and 2010. The FDLR was established by ethnic Hutus who took part in the 1994 Rwandan genocide of Tutsis and fled to Congo after the killing spree was stopped.

One of the longest-standing rebel groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo faced a deadline on 02 January 2015 to disarm or face military action from UN peacekeepers and Congolese armed forces. Some members of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, FDLR, reportedly had surrendered, but the international community said it was not enough. In July, regional heads of state gave the FDLR six months to fully disarm or face military action. About 150 FDLR soldiers reportedly surrendered to Congolese authorities in North Kivu province. The latest estimates suggest about 1,400 fighters remained at large.

As of March 2015 surrendered FDLR elements were still in the camps of Kanyabayonga, Walungu and Kisangani where they maintained intact a perfectly well functioning military structure. A few FDLR combatants had disarmed, but their demobilization had not yet started, let alone their repatriation. The FDLR remained the biggest threat to peace and security in the Great Lakes region.

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