While electoral wrangling continues, there has been an escalation of fighting in the eastern Congo over the past few months. Much of this fighting has taken place between the FDLR and local Congolese militia – the Raia Mutomboki in Shabunda territory and a new group called the Forces de défense congolaise (FDC) in Walikale. These skirmishes have often led the local population to be caught in between, and at the beginning of the year the FDLR reportedly killed around forty civilians in Shabunda in reprisal attacks.
But some of the worst fighting has been in Walikale territory, where a series of assassinations have had a serious impact on the FDLR, which has already lost around half of its troops over the past 3 years. On Wednesday, 11 January, a group of soldiers – some reliable reports claim they were a unit of Rwandan special forces, guided by the FDC – penetrated into the FDLR headquarters in Walikale and ambushed FDLR leaders around a fire. They killed the FDLR chief of staff Brigadier Leodomir Mugaragu. The overall FDLR commander General Mudacumura was also apparently present but was able to escape.
Mugaragu, aka Leon Manzi, was one of the only remaining FDLR commanders with concrete allegations against him of involvement in the 1994 genocide. According to one report, he was a major and battalion commander in 1994 in Ruhengeri, where he was involved in mobilizing militias and setting up roadblocks to kill Tutsi. He had children living in Lubumbashi and Rwanda.
The killing of Brigadier Mugaragu is the last in a series of assassinations that began with Lt Col Sadiki Soleil, who was killed on 20 November, and Lt Col Furaha Honoré, killed on 6 December. All of these attacks have been linked by some sources – although not confirmed – to the Rwandan government, which has allegedly become more sophisticated in using local militia like Mai-Mai Cheka (for the Sadiki killing) and FDLR officers themselves (for the Furaha killing).
While these deaths may be heralded by some as good news, the immediate consequence has been a series of reprisal killings against local militia and, very often, against the local population.