Independent armed groups continue to cause grave suffering in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. More than 25 armed groups operate in eastern Congo. While they vary in size and might, they all use violence against communities as a tactic for gaining control of land. As a result, many people have been killed and many more forced to flee from their homes.
One of the most powerful armed groups operating in eastern Congo over the past several years has been the M23. The group emerged in 2012 when several hundred soldiers decided to revolt against the Congolese army after disagreements over pay and living conditions. These soldiers had been integrated into the Congolese army as part of a peace agreement signed on March 23, 2009, from which the group took its name. M23 captured Goma, a city in eastern Congo, and surrounding towns, killing and displacing many civilians.
A United Nations report released in the fall of 2012 revealed that the government of Rwanda was collaborating with M23 extensively. Rwanda has always had economic and security interests in Congo. The Rwandese government has consistently denied that it provides any support to M23.
Despite these denials, the U.S. and some European countries temporarily suspended financial support to Rwanda over allegations of its support of M23.
In March 2013, the U.N. Security Council gave a U.N. peacekeeping mission the authority to carry out offensive operations, in collaboration with the Congolese army, against M23. This is the first time a U.N. peacekeeping mission has been given an offensive role. In November, M23 surrendered after heavy fighting.
The Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (known by its French acronym, FDLR) is another armed group based in eastern Congo. The FDLR was formed in 2000 by Rwandan Hutu exiles linked to the 1994 genocide. The group found refuge in the forested areas of eastern Congo, a complex terrain that the Congolese government has had trouble governing.
It is estimated that there are 1,000 to 2,000 FDLR fighters currently operating in eastern Congo, far fewer than in years past. Many of the remaining FDLR soldiers are either children of former members or recruits from other Rwandan refugees in the region.
Mennonite Central Committee advocates for programs that encourage armed groups to disarm and be reintegrated into the mainstream society. In Congo, MCC supports a program of the Church of Christ in Congo, which helps FDLR members to do just that. Despite their effectiveness, such programs receive little funding, compared to the money available for military operations.
Since the surrender of M23, members of various armed groups have also expressed great interest in disarming. However, this momentum has been hindered by a lack of resources to support that work on a large scale.
As Anabaptists, our faith teaches us that military might does not build true peace. The Congolese people have seen many foreign militaries enter their country, only to make the situation worse. Please pray that the U.S. and other donor governments cease support for military interventions and increase instead their support for disarmament programs like the one operated by the Church of Christ in Congo.
Printed with permission from Mennonite World Review.