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Rwandan minister commands Congo rebels, says UN report

Rwanda’s defence minister is commanding M23 rebels in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to a UN report that also accuses Rwanda and Uganda of arming the group and sending troops to help it launch a deadly attack on UN peacekeepers.

The UN security council’s group of experts say in a confidential report that Rwanda and Uganda – despite their strong denials – continue to support M23 rebels in their six-month fight against Congolese government troops in North Kivu province.

“Both Rwanda and Uganda have been supporting M23,” says the 44-page report, which Reuters saw on Tuesday.

“While Rwandan officials co-ordinated the creation of the rebel movement as well as its major military operations, Uganda’s more subtle support to M23 allowed the rebel group’s political branch to operate from within Kampala and boost its external relations,” it says.

Bosco Ntaganda, a former Congolese general wanted by the international criminal court for alleged war crimes, controls the rebellion on the ground and M23 leader Sultani Makenga is in charge of operations and co-ordination with allied armed groups, the UN report says.

Both Ntaganda and Makenga “receive direct military orders from RDF [Rwandan army] chief of defence staff General Charles Kayonga, who in turn acts on instructions from minister of defence General James Kabarebe”, it says.

Uganda and Rwanda have denied the accusations of involvement from the UN experts, who monitor compliance with sanctions and an arms embargo on the Congo. They delivered their report to the security council’s Congo sanctions committee earlier this month.

“Rwandan officials exercise overall command and strategic planning for M23,” the report says. “Rwanda continues to violate the arms embargo through direct military support to M23 rebels, facilitation of recruitment, encouragement and facilitation of FARDC [Congolese army] desertions as well as the provision of arms and ammunition, intelligence, and political advice.”

“UPDF [Ugandan army] commanders sent troops and weapons to reinforce specific M23 operations and assisted in M23′s recruitment and weapons procurement efforts in Uganda,” it says.

Nearly 500,000 people have been displaced as a result of the fighting. M23 has proven so resilient that one senior UN diplomatic source told Reuters that Rwanda had effectively annexed mineral-rich eastern Congo thanks to the rebel force.

The UN peacekeeping chief, Hervé Ladsous, said last month that the rebels had set up de facto administration in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, controlling the people and collecting taxes.

The rebellion is also being funded by traders in Rwanda who are profiting from tin, tungsten and tantalum smuggled across the border from mines in the eastern DRC, according to the UN experts’ report.

Their interim report published in June made similar accusations against Rwanda but with far less detail. Kigali reacted furiously, saying it was one-sided and contained false allegations.

Rwanda has backed armed movements in Congo over the past two decades, citing a need to tackle Rwandan rebels operating out of Congo’s eastern hills.

The new report says M23 expanded its control of Rutshuru territory with extensive foreign support in July 2012 and took advantage of a recent informal ceasefire “to expand alliances and command proxy operations elsewhere”.

The experts say units of the Ugandan and Rwandan armies “jointly supported M23 in a series of attacks in July 2012 to take over the major towns in Rutshuru territory, and the [Congolese army] base of Rumangabo”.

During the attacks, the rebels killed a UN peacekeeper and fired on a UN peacekeeping base at Kiwanja.

“According to several M23 soldiers, RDF troops provided the rebels with heavy weapons such as 12.7mm machine guns, 60mm, 91mm and 120mm mortars, as well as anti-tank and anti-aircraft launchers ahead of the attack,” the report says.

“RDF special forces in Rutshuru also aided the rebels and fired 13 rounds on a FARDC combat helicopter during the takeover of Kiwanja.”

Ugandan military spokesman Felix Kulayigye rejected the report.

“Where’s the evidence for their claims? Some of those so-called experts came here and did not interview anyone,” he said. “Where’s their authentic facts to back those claims? Those accusations are absolute rubbish, hogwash.”

Olivier Nduhungirehe, a senior Rwandan diplomat at the country’s UN mission, made a similar denial, which he sent to Reuters on Sunday. He said the UN experts had been “allowed to pursue a political agenda that has nothing to do with getting at the true causes of conflict in the eastern DRC”.

The Rwandan president, Paul Kagame, reiterated Rwanda’s denials at a high-level meeting in New York last month that both he and the Congolese president, Joseph Kabila, attended.

The group of experts said multiple intelligence sources corroborated its findings.

“Various South African Development Community [SADC], European, Ugandan, and Burundian intelligence agents also confirmed the group’s findings concerning Rwandan violations of the [arms] embargo,” the report says.

It adds that the Rwandans have stepped up recruitment for M23, which has around 1,250 soldiers.

“M23 faces challenges in carrying out independent operations and controlling heavily guarded positions due to troop shortages,” says the report.

It says the Rwandan army has targeted Rwandan demobilised soldiers and civilians and Congolese refugees in recruiting for M23, while the rebels themselves have stepped up their use and recruitment of child soldiers. Since May, the experts say, M23 has recruited some 250 children and killed dozens who tried to escape.

“Furthermore, certain M23 commanders have ordered the extrajudicial executions of dozens of recruits and prisoners of war,” the report says.

“M23 uses boys on the frontlines as cover for advancing units, often after a week of training. Others act as porters, intelligence operatives and bodyguards. The rebels use young girls as cooks and as commanders’ wives.”

Source: guardian.co.uk

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