By Fiston Mahamba
GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) - Democratic Republic of Congo’s army said on Wednesday it had killed Sylvestre Mudacumura, the commander of a Rwandan Hutu militia who is wanted by the International Criminal Court.
Mudacumura had been a leader of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) since it was founded in 2000 by Hutu officials who fled Rwanda at the end of the 1994 genocide.
The FDLR has waged periodic war with the Congolese government and rival militias, and Rwanda’s government has cited its presence on Congolese soil to justify repeated interventions across the border.
“Sylvestre Mudacumura was neutralised by the armed forces of Congo along with all the elements accompanying him ... in Rutshuru territory,” army spokesman Richard Kasonga told Reuters.
Mudacumura’s death is the latest blow to the FDLR, which has been weakened in recent years by arrests of several of its leaders and military pressure from Congo’s armed forces, the FARDC, and other militias.
Rwandan foreign affairs ministry official Olivier Nduhungirehe told Reuters he did not have confirmation himself of Mudacumura’s killing, but it was good news for peace and security in the region.
“FDLR is a genocidal movement that is destabilising the region for the past 25 years and we have noticed a renewed commitment and decisive action by the FARDC to neutralize it,” Nduhungirehe said.
The international court issued an arrest warrant for Mudacumura in 2012 for alleged attacks against civilians, murder, rape and torture in eastern Congo, where militia members have operated since the 1994 genocide in neighbouring Rwanda.
Prosecutors accused Mudacumura, believed to be about 65 years old, of orchestrating attacks on civilians during a 2009-10 conflict against the Congolese and Rwandan armies.
Campaign group Human Rights Watch said FDLR fighters killed over 700 civilians during that conflict in an effort to intimidate communities not to cooperate with the army.
In Rwanda, Mudacumura served as deputy commander of the presidential guard, where he was in charge of President Juvenal Habyarimana’s security. During the genocide, he led a battalion in northern Rwanda.
Kasonga said he hoped Mudacumura’s death would encourage holdout members of the FDLR, whether still fighting in the bush or temporarily settled in government-run camps in Congo, to accept repatriation to Rwanda.
Thousands of former FDLR members and their families have returned to Rwanda, but many have refused. International efforts to find a third country to resettle them have so far been unsuccessful.
The FDLR has also been a source of friction between Rwanda and Uganda. Rwanda accused Uganda in March of supporting the FDLR and another Congo-based rebel group opposed to the Rwandan government. Uganda denied the allegations.
Reporting by Fiston Mahamba; Additional reporting by Clement Uwiringiyimana in Kigali; Writing by Aaron Ross and Juliette Jabkhiro; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Giles Elgood