Armed groups weaken in the Kivus

Some good news from the East, finally. Following up on previous reports about the integration of the FRF armed group in the South Kivu High Plateau, a large delegation of FRF officer visited Bukavu last week to discuss the terms of their integration. Some issues have apparently not yet been resolved, such as Gen. Patrick Masunzu’s departure from the province, which the FRF had demanded, as well as the creation of an independent territory of Minembwe. However, it is fairly clear that the two FRF leaders “Generals” Bisogo and Rukunda will be appointed to high-ranking positions, including as deputy commander of South Kivu. In addition, a separate 44th military sector for Minembwe has been proposed, to be commanded by ex-FRF officer Col. James Shyaka. The FRF may have anywhere between 200-500 troops, although there have been reports of recent child recruitment to inflate their numbers during the negotiations.

At the same time, there have been reliable reports of negotiations with Mai-Mai led by “Colonel” Lucien Mastaki (aka Saddam) have been ongoing in Otobora, close to the border between North and South Kivu. While there has not yet been a deal, the Congolese army had conducted a census of his troops, counting 434 soldiers with around a hundred weapons.

There have also been reports of Mai-Mai under the command of Commanders Yakutumba, Kapopo and Aoci – all located in the southern part of South Kivu – would be willing to integrate the national army as well. At the same time, however, there have been reports of other Mai-Mai faction in the same area going on a rampage.

To whom do we owe this sudden will to integrate into the national army? After all, many of these groups have been resisting integration for years – Lucien, the FRF and Yakutumba at least since around 2005. Col. Dephin Kahimbi, the deputy commander of Amani Leo operations in the Kivus, has been traveling around the region over the past month, feverishly negotiating with various armed groups. According to some diplomats, a fair amount of money may have been involved in convincing the various commanders to join up.

In the case of the FRF, another factor apparently played a role. On Christmas day last year, Richard Tawimbi, a leading FRF political cadre, was reportedly arrested in Burundi on the way back from South Africa. According to one UN official, he is alleged to have met with dissident Rwandan Gen. Kayumba Nyamwasa in South Africa, and his computer contained interesting information regarding possible collaboration. In any case, Tawimbi’s arrest was a blow to the FRF and further encouraged them to give up their opposition.

Finally, the recent CEPGL meeting of regional states in Kigali may have helped put pressure on the Congolese government to deal with recalcitrant armed groups. Kigali is reportedly worried their enemies – Gen. Kayumba in particular – could find allies among these various armed groups. At the same time, one of the allies of many of these groups, the FDLR, is leaking soldiers at a steady rate – just this week, MONUSCO reported that 1,881 FDLR were demobilized by the UN in 2010. That means that close to 4,000 FDLR have been left the groups since the beginning of Umoja Wetu operations in January 2009.