A new FDLR leadership?

It appears that the FDLR are beginning to re-organize after the end of Kimia II operations. For several days now, meeting have been held in southern Masisi territory to determine how they should restructure their leadership after the arrest of Ignace Murwanashyaka and Straton Musoni, their president and vice-president, in Germany last year. It appears that General Gaston Iyamuremye (aka Rumuli Michel) may temporarily take the helm. Until recently, Rumuli was the main representative of the civilian leadership in the field and a quasi minister of defense. He led an office that was staffed by civilian advisers and tasked with developing military and political strategy. He is known to be a relative hardliner, although he has previously engaged in talks with MONUC on behalf of the FDLR, notably in 2008, when he met with MONUC representatives in Nyabiondo (Masisi) and promised to send a battalion of FDLR troops into demobilization as a goodwill gesture. Nothing ever came of this, and some speculated that the military commander, General Mudacumura, had countermanded his order.

Rumuli Michel is around 60 years old and is from the northern province of Ruhengeri. He was trained in Rwanda and Belgium and was leading a battalion that was in charge of logistics and military equipment in Kigali at the time of the genocide; his involvement in the massacres has not been established, but some members of the Rwandan security service have suggested that they view him as complicit.

His nomination may only be temporary as they look for someone more suitable. However, if it does become permanent, it will represent a serious shift of their public image from Ignace Murwanashyaka – who was a civilian based in Germany and was not present in Rwanda at the time of the genocide – to a military commander in the field. In that sense, it could represent a radicalization of their approach (although it seems difficult to become more radical than they are already) and a closing of the ranks. Callixte Mbarushimana, the executive secretary of the FDLR based in Paris, has apparently backed this temporary nomination and is still signing press releases from Paris. A president based in the field may also take the pressure off him, as both the BBC and the Associated Press have recently run long stories on his involvement in the FDLR and the 1994 genocide.

In the meantime, local press reports that the FDLR have retaken some of the positions they were forced out of during Kimia II operations.