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ICGLR has done well fighting armed groups and Rwanda knows it

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By FRED OLUOCH
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Rwanda announced recently that it could withdraw from the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region over its failure to stop insecurity. Fred Oluoch spoke with ICGLR’s executive secretary about members’ concerns.

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Has the ICGLR Secretariat received communication from Rwanda about its intention to withdraw?

We have not received any official communication from Rwanda. The procedures of withdrawal are clear.

According to Article 35, a member state that has ratified the ICGLR pact may withdraw from it after 10 years from the date it entered into force in relation to the member state, by giving written notification to the depositary.

Withdrawal shall take effect one year from the date of receipt by the depositary.

Rwanda’s State Minister for Foreign Affairs Olivier Nduhungirehe said that ICGLR has failed to achieve its mandate of promoting security…

That statement does not reflect the reality. The ICGLR was started 12 years ago in December 2006 when the pact was signed in Nairobi.

The region was then in turmoil, with total anarchy experienced in eastern DRC after the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) rebel group settled in the two Kivu provinces.

Negative forces created an atmosphere of suspicion, mistrust and animosity between the DRC and Rwanda for many years — a situation that was eventually resolved after many ICGLR Heads of State Summits.

The Kampala Summit in 2012 proposed the creation of the Intervention Force Brigade which has worked with the DRC army to render FDLR an insignificant force.

The heads of state summits have helped to boost bilateral relations between countries.

The ICGLR continues to convene ministerial, Chiefs of Defence Staff and Chiefs of Intelligence meetings regularly where security matters are discussed.

The Rwandan Minister is entitled to his opinion, but the truth is, ICGLR has achieved a great deal.

Rwanda is particularly unhappy that FDLR still operates in eastern Congo despite promises to eject it.

These issues have been discussed at various fora of the ICGLR organs, including the Heads of State and government Summits, since 2015.

All the decisions taken by the ICGLR have had the blessings of Rwanda.

Rwanda has consistently and actively participated in all the summits and is therefore well briefed on the FDLR situation. The ICGLR continues to prepare the disarmed FDLR in transit camps in the DRC to be repatriated to Rwanda.

The ICGLR established the Expanded Joint Verification Mechanism in which Rwanda is represented.

These military experts regularly conduct on-the-spot verifications and submit their reports to the ICGLR Committee of Ministers of Defence through the chiefs of defence staff. This has created confidence among the member states.

The ICGLR also established a Joint Intelligence Fusion Centre, where intelligence on negative forces is shared. Again, Rwanda is represented in this specialised organ.

Still, the Allied Democratic Forces and M23 continue to operate in eastern Congo with ICGLR appearing helpless…

Yes, the ADF still operates in the Ruwenzori area in Beni territory. It has morphed into a terrorist group.

We have consistently condemned their terrorist acts against civilians and the UN troops.

The ICGLR established a joint follow-up mechanism comprising four member states — DRC, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda — to curtail the recruitment of the ADF.

On M23, the ICGLR successfully mediated the conflict to conclusion leading to the Nairobi Declaration in December 2013.

Although some ex-combatants are still cantoned in Rwanda and Uganda, the ICGLR continues to facilitate their repatriation to the DRC.

The last repatriation of 13 from Uganda took place in July this year. However, fighting an established rebel force that has mastered that rugged and forested terrain cannot be a one-day event. The M23 presence in the eastern DRC is still under verification.

With elections in DRC expected in December, has the ICGLR put in place measures to ensure that armed groups do not interfere?

The ICGLR plays a supportive role in the Addis Ababa Framework of Co-operation for eastern DRC and the Great Lakes Region as a guarantor.

Together with SADC, we are supporting the concerted efforts by the DRC government and peacekeepers to pacify eastern Congo in readiness for the elections.

I need to emphasise that we are not an enforcement mechanism but a political organisation of member states with a specific mandate.

There have been concerns that the ICGLR concentrates on the DRC, neglecting the security challenges in other members states?

There is no evidence to support these claims. The perception probably emanates from the fact that the ICGLR has held many extraordinary summits to pacify the eastern DRC which was the epicentre of conflict in the region for a long time.

DRC shares borders with eight member states and its stability is crucial for the region.

The ICGLR is also present in the Central African Republic as part of the African Union reconciliation efforts, and supports the Igad-led peace process in South Sudan.

The organisation is also developing a counter terrorism strategy that will entail more collaboration with member states.

The disarmament and fight against the proliferation of small arms and light weapons in Kenya, Uganda and South Sudan is another example of ICGLR’s involvement with its members.

We have a number of projects in different member states, but, because they are not conflict-oriented, they can easily be overlooked.

For example, we have established the Levy Mwanawasa Regional Centre based in Lusaka, a think tank that provides evidence-based solutions on major peace and security challenges in the region. through research and analysis.

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