April 15, 2020

Military Offensive Ongoing to Dismantle Source of FDLR Financing near Congo’s Virunga Park

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Images of damage inflicted on villages that may have been occupied by the FDLR. These photos were shared on social media by Rwandan exiles. No credible reports yet of casualties

An unannounced military offensive is ongoing since last week in eastern DR Congo targeting areas where Rwandan FDLR militia gets financing to maintain its war effort for two decades now.

Apart from giving blanket statements about the general military operations in the whole of the east, Congo’s military has not been giving specifics. President Felix Tshisekedi is said to have deployed 12,000 special forces in the region to battle Rwandan and Ugandan rebels, and local groups.

The latest operations are taking place in the vast Rutshuru territory, specifically areas bordering the large Virunga forest park. This same park extends into Rwanda and Uganda, and is the internationally known habitat of the famed mountain gorillas.

The first news about the ongoing offensive is being shared on social media by Rwandan exiles. They posted graphic photos of villages destroyed, reporting that they were inhabited by “Rwanda Hutu refugees”.

In the same posts, as with previous such military offensives, the Rwandan exiles in Europe claimed the attacks had been carried out by Rwandan troops camouflaged in DRC army uniforms.

On Monday April 13, Juvenal Munuba, a Congolese lawmaker representing the Rutshuru territory in the national Parliament in Kinshasa, had interviews with radio stations in North Kivu provincial capital Goma, in which he claimed Rwandan troops were in Rutshuru. Rwanda’s military never comments specifically on war raging in eastern Congo. On occasions it has, maintains those are Congolese affairs which should be asked of Kinshasa.

The Congolese lawmaker Munubo is a member of the UNC party headed by Vital Kamerhe, who is in trouble with his partner President Tshisekedi, accused of stealing hundreds of millions of dollars. Kamerhe has powerful friends in Rwanda, including former defense minister Gen James Kabarebe, and even attended wedding of Kabarebe’s son late last year. What is suspicious is how a UNC party lawmaker makes a claim that is damaging to Rwanda.

Back to the military offensive, The Chronicles has evidence from credible sources about the real identity of the people inhabiting in the attacked areas. The region is source of tens of thousands of dollars in cash for Rwandan FDLR rebel commanders and DRC army Generals.

In November 2017, the Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS) published study titled; “Everything that moves will be taxed”: the political economy of roadblocks in North and South Kivu.

More of the destruction with clear signs that people indeed lived here

The Danish study gives graphic details of a well established system of taxation imposed by FDLR on minerals, timber, charcoal, cannabis and food.

According to accounts posted this Tuesday on social media by Rwandan exiles, they identify the area under attack as Kisali and Kidodi, both in Rutshuru near Virunga park. They also claim there are many killed and displaced. However, there is no other independent sources. These same locations are identified by the Danish study.

It reads; “…We have mapped 43 FDLR tax collection posts in North Kivu, all of them dedicated to the taxation of natural resources. The FDLR impose a tax on makala at 40, and on the timber at 30 of the roadblocks. Almost all roadblocks (40 out of 43) are located in Masisi and Rutshuru, and most of these points are in or near the Virunga National Park.”

A first category of FDLR posts along the charcoal and timber supply chain concerns those located in the area bordering the park. At these roadblocks, they charge between 200 and 700 FC for the “right of access”, and tax the evacuation of natural resources (in kind or in cash). At these posts, they also check the payments from the production areas under their control. This first category includes the Kiseguru, Katwiguru, Kisharo, Kanyatsi, Shonyi, Buhara, Bweru and Kanyangiri roadblocks.

A second category comprises roadblocks in the production areas within the park itself. The FDLR not only taxes charcoal and timber production, but also agricultural production. Their posts are either located at the very places where these natural resources are produced, or at the entrance/exit of these areas. This category of roadblocks includes those of Bwiza, Kyumba, the park entrance between Kidodi and Katemba, Kilama, and Kasali. The FDLR has a unit called “Chypre” of the FDLR’s operational sub-sector “Sinai”, which handles taxation of food. In addition, around Kiwanja, the FDLR taxes farmers about 3,000 FC for access to their fields.

In the Nyamulagira sector, south of the Nyiragongo volcano in the Virunga park, the FDLR operate a large number of tax collection positions, mainly taxing sawmills and charcoal or timber transporters. They charge 7,000 FC for access to the sites per person per month. The FDLR also imposes farmers a tax called “mikoro” of 2,000 FC per harvest in Kibende, a few kilometers from Kiwanja, and 10 dollars per harvest in Kibirizi in Rutshuru territory.

However, the Danish study notes that in these areas, there were posts of the Congolese military. The study notes; “It is interesting to note that all FDLR roadblocks are mirrored by a nearby Congolese army (FARDC) roadblock, where the army equally imposes taxes on transporters. While the FDLR tax closer to the production area, Congolese soldiers tax transport of natural resources.”

Along the roads between the production area in Rutshuru and Goma (the main destination), the FARDC had erected roadblocks, more or less discreet, to tax this activity. With the help of the Virunga National Park. The Danish study mapped 36 FARDC roadblocks.

According to local civil society, around 18,000 bags of charcoal and 23,000 of timber planks are transported via just one route every month. These vast productions head to Goma, and eventually actually some into Rwanda, brought by legitimate Rwandan and Congolese traders.

Estimates of how much the FDLR earns from taxes, directly selling charcoal, minerals and timber, vary, as calculated by different international groups that have had access to the FDLR areas. The militia is minting millions of dollars.

Advocacy group Enough Project, founded by Hollywood star Ben Affleck, said in its own study in June 2016 that estimates of FDLR charcoal business alone was worth around $35m annually, a surely lucrative venture.

The region was such a key lifeline to the FDLR, that it is where the reclusive commander Gen Sylvestre Mudacumura, lived. In mid September last year, he was killed in Nyanzale, more than 150km north of Goma or 6 hours drive away. This man’s death had been announced countless times in last 20 years.

Only that, this time, there was photographic evidence. The answer to the question “who killed him”, depends on who you speak to.

From the Danish study, the blue spots show exact locations of the roadblocks mapped by the researchers

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