The peaceful surrender of a rebel leader who recruited fighters to attack government forces and civilians in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo is the latest in a series of blows to an insurgency that threatens the region's peace and stability. The recent defection of Samuel Bisengimana and other officers of the rebel Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda has diminished both the group's operational capacity and its morale. Nevertheless, the armed group continues to impede efforts to achieve peace there. Other FDLR soldiers should join them in ending the cycle of violence in eastern Congo by laying down their weapons and reintegrating back into society.
Bisengimana, also known as Sam Kunda-Mutina, was a member of the high command of the FDLR, which in various forms has fought against the government of neighboring Rwanda and attacked Congolese forces and civilians as well. Although the FDLR includes some Congolese, Bisengimana and most of the group are Rwandan Hutus who fled to Congo after the 1994 Rwanda genocide in which some 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed. While many of the FDLR did not participate in the genocide, the group does contain the remnants of those who were actively involved in the 1994 tragedy.
Bisengimana played a key role for the FDLR in recruiting new fighters. For almost a year, however, he was negotiating with officials working to demobilize and repatriate Rwandan rebels, and on February 16 he turned himself in to the United Nations stabilization mission in the Congo, or MONUSCO. Under Rwanda’s repatriation program, he and the others will spend two months in a training camp for former FDLR fighters in Rwanda before rejoining their families.
His defection follows that of three other FDLR commanders in January and the beginning in February of the International Criminal Court’s proceedings against Callixte Mbarushimana, the FDLR’s executive secretary accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Morale among the rebels is said to already be low and 1,800 FDLR soldiers gave up the fight in 2010. It is hoped that recent events will serve as a signal to other FDLR soldiers that the time to lay down their arms is at hand.