Reporter succeeds where UN failed: Rwanda militia website closed

FDLR militia group's website in Europe shut down after German newspaper raised questions.

The war in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo took a surprising twist this week – from Germany.

The group, a Hutu rebel force accused by the Rwandan government of planning the 1994 genocide, lost its Web presence this week after a German reporter with Die Tageszeitung (TAZ) asked a French Internet company, OVH, why it was hosting the site of a group known best for its war crimes.

That may not sound significant, but consider this: For a website to run, it needs two things: an address, known as a URL and starting with "www," and a hosting service, which rents a sliver of cyberspace to the URL.

OVH's decision to drop the FDLR's Web service is a blow to the militia, which used the web page to communicate with the outside world, and each other, even after the United Nations informed OVH in 2008 that "hosting the website could be considered as support to a nongovernmental Congolese armed group."

Click here to download a PDF of the UN report (see page 19).

TAZ calls the Web-page removal “a major step” in fighting the group; it says that FDLR President Ignace Murwanashyaka told a Mannheim courtroom in March, “The major communication [between the leadership and Congo] is over the Internet.”

The move also represents a blow to the impunity the FDLR has so far enjoyed in Europe, where its leaders have taken up residence, often under French or German asylum law.

Mr. Murwanashyaka is facing criminal charges in Germany, so far with little effect on his ability to lead – and even to travel to – the FDLR in the Congolese bush.

The UN and Rwanda would like to either repatriate or oust the rebels from eastern Congo.

Still, losing the Web page is not exactly losing the fight: The FDLR still has e-mail – and, as of this writing, its German e-mail provider isn’t bouncing its e-mails back. In addition, the website, already moved to a server in an as yet unknown country, promises to return after a week of "maintenance."

Meanwhile, TAZ notes, if you should need to reach the head of this militia group, Murwanashyaka’s phone number is still readily available ... on the Internet.

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