Officials within the Rwandan military have provided up to 300 fighters as well as weapons and ammunition to rebels battling government forces in neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo), Human Rights Watch (HRW) said yesterday.
Rwanda denies backing the rebellion in the mountainous east of DR Congo, which has for the last two months pitted the army against troops loyal to Bosco Ntaganda, a renegade DR Congo general wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Kigali has a history of supporting armed groups in DR Congo, citing a need to pursue Rwandan rebel fighters linked to the country’s 1994 genocide, but has also faced accusations of contributing to the ongoing violence and pillaging the region’s vast mineral wealth.
The US-based campaign group HRW said Rwandan army officials had recruited as many as 300 fighters in Rwanda and sent them across the border to fight for Ntaganda in recent weeks.
It has also provided assault rifles, anti-aircraft artillery and ammunition to the rebels who are currently holed up on three hills just a few kilometers from the Rwandan border, the rights group said in a report.
“The role played by some Rwandan military officials in supporting and harboring an ICC war crimes suspect can’t just be swept under the rug,” said Anneke Van Woudenberg, HRW’s senior Africa researcher.
Congolese military officials have estimated that the rebels reached their current position in Rutshuru territory, North Kivu Province, with about 300 fighters, meaning that if HRW’s claims are correct, Rwandan recruits would have effectively doubled the size of their force.
Ntaganda was spotted talking to a Rwandan military officer by witnesses in the Rwandan town of Kinigi on May 26, according to HRW, which also reported that at least six rebels had been executed after trying to desert.
“Rwanda should immediately stop all support to Ntaganda and assist in his arrest,” Van Woudenberg said.
The report did not go as far as explicitly accusing the Rwandan government of approving support within the military for the rebels, but called on Kigali to make sure it was stopped.
Rwanda’s foreign minister last week accused HRW and other non-state actors of trying to destabilize the region and of spreading false rumors over its involvement in the rebellion.
The government of the DR Congo has said it is jointly investigating the claims with Rwanda, which risk seriously damaging relations between the two countries.