Germany arrests Congo rebel leaders
Two Rwandan Hutu rebel leaders were arrested by Germany, charged with directing war crimes. Could this mark a turning point in Congo conflict?
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The arrests in Germany come just as a UN report – expected to link the FDLR leadership in Europe directly to atrocities committed in Congo – is set to be submitted to the UN Security Council. The report's findings come as no surprise to researchers in the region.Skip to next paragraph
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"[Former FDLR combatants] all say 'we do nothing without the OK of Ignace Murwanashyaka,' so taking him out the picture will have a big effect," says Ms. Van Woudenberg. But what happens in this leadership vacuum is difficult to predict, she adds. "This has the potential to open doors for moderates within the FDLR to lay down their weapons. It could also make the movement more hardened as they are increasingly cornered."
Murwanashyaka has long denied that FDLR forces have been involved in war crimes, and insisted that they were fighting for democracy in Rwanda.
Coming on the heels of mounting international pressure, the arrests in Germany represent a major shift in European policy towards the FDLR leadership. Previously the rebel group had carefully screened its leaders in Europe so that they could not be linked to the 1994 genocide.
"What I like about what happened is that this is the first time, to my knowledge, that the Europeans are arresting the FDLR on the basis of something that is currently happening in Congo, not actions of the genocide in 1994," says Guillaume Lacaille, a senior researcher on the DRC for International Crisis Group in Nairobi. "This opens up new legal grounds to go after the FDLR. In terms of impact, I would not like to be an FDLR combatant right now."
What will US and France do?
"Now, I would hope that France and the US will follow the example of Germany," adds Mr. Lacaille. Callixte Mbarushimana, the Secretary General of the FDLR, resides in France, and Jean-Marie Zianney Higiro, the president of a breakaway faction of the FDLR, resides in the US.
For many in the region, the news of the arrests is welcome, if long overdue.
"This is a good message to the people of Rwanda, the people of Eastern Congo and the region as a whole," says Tharcisse Karugaruma, Rwanda's Justice minister. "Their intention is to create fear in the region and eventually come back to Rwanda to finish the genocide that they started."
Mr. Karugaruma says that the arrests in Germany represented a new trend across Europe to deny sanctuary to FDLR rebel leaders living in the region.
Africa's "Great Lakes region will never know peace if the people leading and raising money for such groups are living freely in Europe and North America," Karugaruma says. "It's already high time that the world took decisive action on this issue."