Through the Wire

Key Armed Groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo

November 5, 2013
| Africa

While the M23 rebellion monopolised the headlines on conflict in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for over a year, before announcing on Tuesday it was laying down its weapons, many other armed groups are active in the country.

They fight in the North and South Kivu provinces, as well as further to the north and south, against the government or against other armed groups, in a series of often shifting alliances, and prey on the civilian population.

Here is a selection of some key forces:


M23: Army mutineers, for the most part Congolese Tutsi who speak the Rwandan language Kinyarwanda. Former rebels, they were integrated into the DRC army in 2009 but mutinied in April 2012, complaining that the peace deal had not been fully implemented. Kinshasa and the United Nations accuse the group of being backed by Rwanda and to a lesser extent by Uganda -- a charge denied by both Kigali and Kampala. M23 briefly seized and occupied Goma in November 2012. On Tuesday the rebels said they were laying down their arms after a crushing assault by the UN-backed army pushed them out of the last two hills they held. According to foreign military sources, at the end they numbered fewer than 1,000 fighters, against 1,700 in August.


ALLIED DEMOCRATIC FORCES (ADF): Beginning as a group of Ugandan rebels opposed to the regime of President Yoweri Museveni, they have since also developed an Islamist agenda. Based in the Rwenzori mountains that straddle the Uganda/DR Congo border. Estimates as to their number vary from several hundred to 1,300.


DEMOCRATIC FORCES FOR THE LIBERATION OF RWANDA (FDLR): Rwandan Hutu rebels based in DR Congo since they fled Rwanda after the genocide in 1994, in which some 800,000 people, mainly Tutsis, were killed. Their avowed aim was -- and technically still is -- to overthrow the Rwandan government, but for many years they have preyed mainly on Congolese civilians. FDLR fighters have been estimated to number between 1,500 and 2,000.


NATIONAL LIBERATION FORCES (FNL): A Burundian rebel group that once again took up arms against the Bujumbura government after the 2010 elections that were boycotted by the opposition, five years after the end of a civil war. Part of the FNL uses DRC's South Kivu province as a fallback base.


ECUMENICAL FORCES FOR THE LIBERATION OF CONGO (FOLC): Backed by an ex-rebel leader Antipas Mbusa Nyamwisi, who became a government minister until September 2011. Active in the northern part of North Kivu, the FOLC is thought to have agreed to lay down its arms earlier this year.



There are at least 20 Mai Mai factions, or community-based militia forces. They are present in North and South Kivu, as well as in other regions, notably Katanga province. Some of the groups number fewer than 100 and team up with other groups when they need to fight; others number more than 1,000.


NYATURA: Evolved from the former Mai Mai group Pareco, or Resistant Congolese Patriots. Many of the guerrillas integrated into the DRC army in 2009, but the remainder continue to fight.


ALLIANCE OF PATRIOTS FOR A FREE AND SOVEREIGN CONGO (APCLS): Group based in Masisi in North Kivu. Represents the interests of the Hunde people and fights groups made up mainly of Kinyarwanda speakers.

Both Nyatura and the APCLS fought against the M23 in November 2012.


Several groups have been set up to defend the local populations, including Raia Mutomboki, which has battled the FDLR, and the Congolese Defence Forces. However, they are regularly accused of attacking civilians.

Other armed groups operate elsewhere in the country, including in Ituri, a region that lies to the north of North Kivu, and in the mining province of Katanga to the south.



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