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The East African : Feb 23rd 2015
16 The EastAfrican NEWS FEBRUARY 21-27,2015 NO LET-UP Another potential barrier to resettlement is the reluctance of ‘‘third countries” to accept rebel fighters, UN sources say. Picture: File UN seeks ways to attack rebels based in DRC A ≥esettlement option would se≥ve as an essential “escape valve” fo≥ unindicted FDLR leade≥s By KEVIN J KELLEY Special Correspondent alternative to the aborted military operations that were supposed to have been launched last month against a rebel group in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Under this initiative, lead- U ers and some members of the group who are not suspected of committing atrocities would be resettled in countries outside the Great Lakes region. Such safe passage into ex- ile could be made available to “the vast majority” of commanders of the force known as the FDLR, suggests Jason Stearns, a former UN official in the DRC. And if this offer were to be taken up on a large scale, it would potentially neutralise the Rwandan Hutu-led group. Only a few hard-line FDLR leaders would remain in the DRC. They could then be more easily apprehended or they could go underground into inactivity. This resettlement option would serve as an essential “escape valve” for unindicted FDLR leaders, adds Sasha Lezhnev, a Congo expert at the Washington-based Enough Project. Mr Stearns agrees it is vi- tal that the UN and Western powers not fall victim to “tunnel vision” that prevents them from seeing options other than use of military force to eliminate the FDLR threat. But the proposal has yet to progress past the theoretical stage due to a variety of obstacles. For one, FDLR leaders “express no desire to go abroad,” Mr Lezhnev points out. But he adds, “if put under pressure, their minds might change.” Most of the estimated 1,400 remaining members of the group that carried out “FDLR leaders express no desire to go abroad but put under pressure, their minds might change.” nited Nations diplomats are privately posing an the 1994 Rwanda genocide are “tired and demoralised,” Mr Stearns notes. “Many are sick and have families.” Another potential barrier to resettlement is the reluctance of “third countries” to accept rebel fighters, UN sources say. Diplomats will likely focus their efforts at persuasion on West African countries far from the DRC and Rwanda. Donors would be expected to offer financial inducements to countries that may be willing to take in the exiles. “The biggest problem is that the Rwandan government is putting a veto on this,” Mr Stearns notes. “But it shouldn’t be Rwanda’s right to choose. It’s the Congolese who are suffering” at the hands of the FDLR. It is Rwanda’s position that the DRC-based rebels have been offered ample time to surrender and disarm — or be attacked in accordance with commitments and a deadline laid down by the UN Security Council. With the vocal support of the United States, the UN had set January 2 as the starting date for a military offensive against FDLR. Speaking in late December, Russell Feingold, the US special envoy for the Great Lakes, ruled out the possibility of negotiations with the FDLR, saying the time had come for military action. But the US may now have no effective option other than negotiating with the FDLR on a political alternative to an armed campaign that seems unlikely to get underway any time soon. The UN recently refused to take part in any operation against the FDLR that involves participation by DRC generals believed to be guilty of grave human rights abuses. The UN has pointed in particular to Fall Sibakwe and Bruno Mandevu, appointed by DRC President Joseph Kabila to co-ordinate and lead the assault on the rebels. The Congolese leader rejected the UN ultimatum to sideline the two generals, saying that the DRC would instead proceed unilaterally with the campaign against the FDLR.
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