He has been announced as dead several times in the last 10 years, and that has finally come true. Lt Gen Sylvestre Mudacumura has been killed in Nyanzale, more than 150km north of Goma or 6 hours drive away.
He was reportedly killed in an operation last night by the Nduma Defence of Congo-Rénové (NDC-R) militia – one of the many roaming eastern Congo.
Gen Mudacumura has been commander of FOCA, the military wing of the democratic forces for the liberation of Rwanda or FDLR. The militia was formed in May 2000, as a break away from another Rwandan group called ALIIR.
Both groups were formed by people who took part in the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, and fled to then Zaire. Rwanda has invaded Congo two times to hunt the FDLR, and has also operated joint military offensives with Congolese forces in the east. However, the FDLR remains well established, regularly firing rockets into Rwanda.
Also yesterday, suspected FDLR rebels kidnapped 22 Congolese villagers in Kisharo, (100 km north from Goma) on the Kiwanja-Ishasha road in Rutshuru territory. This is known FDLR territory.
Details about the operation that killed Gen Mudacumura remain sketchy, but come days after DR Congo president Felix Tshisekedi ordered his military commanders to all relocate to eastern Congo in new push to pacify the region.
Tshisekedi and President Kagame have reportedly also been working on a new join offensive. Rwanda’s RDF chief of Defense Staff Gen Patrick Nyamvumba was in Congo in the early days of Tshisekedi’s presidency, opening room for more speculation about the planned operations.
Meanwhile, in the past weeks, Congo’s military FARDC have been engaged in fierce battles in different parts of Nortk Kivu province. In south Kivu meanwhile, war is raging between local militias, Rwandan and Burundian rebels – all fighting on different sides the region’s dynamics.
The killing of Gen Mudacumura, will come as a major blow to the FDLR. He is said to have been commander with the presidential guard of assassinated President Juvenal Habyarimana. After the RPF rebels, led by Kagame took over Rwanda, Mudacumura and others relocated to Zaire.
Offensives of the ‘Abacengezi’ rebels in northwestern Rwanda until 1999, ended only after Rwandan forces had removed Zaire strongman Mobutu Ssese Seko.
Despite a $5m US government bounty for information leading to arrest and transfer of Mudacumura for prosecution, he has remained untouched. The International Criminal Court (ICC) has also indicted him for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Congo.
There is no single photo of Gen Mudacumura except those of him in the former Rwandan army. The new photo shared today on social media in Rwanda shows him with grey hair, and not as bulky as he appeared in old photos.
Surprisingly, he is donning military uniforms worn by RDF, indication he has been up to date with the happenings in Rwanda.
Gen Mudacumura has never given any media interview, leaving it to Gen Byiringiro Victor alias General Gaston/Michel Byiringiro/ Rumuli/ Victor Rumuri – who is the current FDLR president. But Mudacumura and Byiringiro have not been operating from the same region in eastern Congo.
In 2017, FDLR split into two factions. Its secretary general at the time Col Wilson Irategeka alias Lumbago/Ndagijimana Laurent, left to form the so called national council for renewal and democracy (CNRD Ubwiyunge). Irategeka accused Mudacumura and his allies of being extremists and holding the FDLR hostage because of their crimes in Rwanda and DRC.
In December last year, two key allies of Gen Mudacumura were captured by Congolese security on border as they returned from secret trip to Uganda. They are: FDLR spokesman Ignace Nkaka alias LaForge Bazeye Fils and deputy intelligence chief Lt Col Nsekenabo Jean Pierre alias Abega Kamala.
The two were handed to Rwanda following intense behind the scene maneuvers involving the highest levels of the Kinshasa and Kigali. The men are facing prosecution in Rwanda and have already appeared in court.
Details divulged in the failed bail hearings show the men were from meeting senior Uganda government officials. Their trip, according to Rwanda, was facilitated by Ugandan state minister for East African Affairs Dr Philemon Mateke.
There is no doubt the arrest of the two commanders may have helped the authorities in Congo and Rwanda establish a clear pattern of how FDLR operates.
Meanwhile, with the killing of Gen Mudacumura, the whereabouts of other FDLR top brass like Omega, Ruhinda, Gashirabake and Kubwayo, are unclear.
No official comments yet from Kinshasa and Kigali about Gen Mudacumura’s killing.