The leader of the Mai Mai Kifuafua rebel movement said he needs assurances from the Democratic of Republic of Congo’s (DRC) government that it will protect unarmed civilians in the territory the group controls before his 2,800 members will hand over their weapons under the administration’s peace effort program.
Didier Bitaki said members of his group took up arms to protect civilians in the Walekale territory and nearby towns after increasing attacks by the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and other rival rebels.
“We could not leave our people [to] be killed by FDLR and other groups. So, it is very simple, if the government guarantees security to our population in Walekale and other areas, there is no reason to [prevent] my troops from joining the government,” Bitaki said.
Wary of promises
Bitaki said his group is ready to support government’s effort to establish peace, but expressed concern the administration has yet to keep promises to protect civilians.
He insists the constitution, however, gives his men the right to protect life and property, in spite of the government’s insistence the rebel group is part of the country’s insecurity problem.
“The constitution says that everybody has a right to defend himself whenever he is threatened by foreign or forces that will [create] danger for his life,” said Bitaki.
“So when we saw that our families are being threatened by rebel forces from Rwanda and from [other places] we said that we should protect ourselves because of the FARDC [Congolese army] were not able to do so. So that is the reason why the group exists," he added.
Bitaki called on the government to send FARDC troops to the areas his rebels control to reassure his group the administration is serious about improving security.
Backed by the United Nations Mission to the country (MONUSCO), the DRC government launched the Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) program. It encouraged rebel groups to turn in their weapons either to be integrated into the army or into society.
That move came after President Joseph Kabila’s government issued an ultimatum to all rebel groups to hand over their weapons as part of the administration effort to restore law and order, as well as to establish peace and stability in rebel-controlled areas.
MONUSCO often has supported Congo’s army, the FARDC, to launch military offensives against various rebel groups in parts of the country where the armed groups often attack.
Neutralize armed groups
The UN Mission’s military spokesman, Colonel Felix Basse, said MONUSCO aims to neutralize all armed groups in order to restore the authority of the government in Kinshasa in rebel-controlled areas.
He said the successful military offensives have boosted efforts to protect unarmed civilians, which he said is part of MONUSCO’s mandate.
“We are committed to working closely and in very strong cooperation with the Congolese forces in order to neutralize all these armed groups that are causing [mayhem] against the population. So this is the aim of the operation to neutralize [rebels groups],” said Basse.