BUKHAVU, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO – Hundreds of Rwandans linked to a militia in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo have been handed over to Rwandan authorities weeks after they were captured, the Congolese Army said Sunday.
Some 71 rebels and almost 1,500 family members and dependents were transported across the border on Saturday, said Capt. Dieudonne Kasereka, army spokesman in Congo’s South Kivu province.
The rebels were said to be members of a militia known as the CNRD — an offshoot of the FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda), a group created by refugees in eastern Congo after the 1994 genocide of Tutsis by the majority Hutus in Rwanda.
Eastern Congo has been plagued by overlapping conflicts and rebellions fueled by ethnic and land disputes, competition for control of mineral resources and regional rivalries.
FDLR fighters have regularly been accused of atrocities against civilians during their long-running rebellion across the mineral-rich eastern Congo provinces of North and South Kivu as well as in southern Katanga.
The 1,500 who crossed the border Saturday were “the last wave of those captured and surrendered who were still being held in the Nyamunyunyi military camp,” Kasereka said, referring to a camp 30 km (20 miles) from Bukavu, the capital of South Kivu province.
The military said almost 300 rebel fighters were sent to Rwanda earlier this month, following an operation by the army in South Kivu.
The United Nations had estimated that the FDLR and its offshoots numbered between 500 and 600 active fighters in early 2019.
The Congolese Army has claimed several victories over the militia in recent months, including the apparent killings of two of its commanders.
Rwanda’s Tutsi-dominated government has welcomed the anti-militia operations in Congo, saying their territory has also been targeted by Hutu rebels.