UN sanctions experts have “overwhelming evidence” that Rwanda has breached an arms embargo to aid rebels in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo), according to a report obtained by Agence France-Presse.
Kigali has strongly denied accusations of involvement in a new rebellion in the eastern DR Congo, but the UN Security Council on Tuesday published an annex to a report by the sanctions experts setting out their accusations.
The experts said they had “overwhelming evidence” that senior Rwandan Defense Forces officers “in their official capacities, have been backstopping the rebels through providing weapons, military supplies and new recruits.”
Eastern DR Congo has been rocked by an uprising by military mutineers who have formed themselves into a group called M23, led by Bosco Ntaganda, a renegade general wanted by the International Criminal Tribunal.
“Over the course of its investigation since late 2011, the group has found substantial evidence attesting to support from Rwandan officials to armed groups operating in the eastern DRC,” the annex said.
The annex added that Rwandan military officers had given “direct assistance” in the creation of M23 by providing weapons and soldiers, as well as helping to recruit Rwandan youths and Congolese refugees and mobilizing Congolese political and financial support.
The decision to encourage the mutiny came as part of Rwanda’s years-long battle against the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) rebels in the DR Congo, the experts said.
In talks with neighboring countries since April, Rwandan officials have insisted on “impunity” for Ntaganda and other allies and on the deployment of Rwandan units in eastern DR Congo to battle the FDLR, an ethnic Hutu rebel group that includes individuals implicated in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
The DR Congo last week demanded that the UN Security Council condemn the Rwandan incursions and said Rwanda’s involvement in the M23 rebellion was “evolving dangerously toward a rupture of the peace” between the two neighbors.
Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo labeled the DR Congo accusations as “disingenuous” and said they risked heightening the conflict in the region.
The minister, speaking at UN headquarters on Monday, denied her country was supporting armed groups in the DR Congo.
“People need to just calm down and look at this situation, look at the history, look at the context,” she said. “Otherwise, there is so much conflicting information out there that it risks getting the conflict worse rather than better.”
Mushikiwabo also strongly condemned the group Human Rights Watch, which has also criticized the Rwandan government’s activities in the DR Congo.
The New York-based group said in a report released this month that Rwandan army officers had “provided weapons, ammunition and an estimated 200 to 300 recruits to support Ntaganda’s mutiny.”
Human Rights Watch said some recruits had been forced to take up arms and some were under 18.
“Witnesses said that some recruits were summarily executed on the orders of Ntaganda’s forces when they tried to escape,” it said.
Several hundred fighters and M23 followers are said to be holed up in the Virunga national park in eastern DR Congo, near its frontier with Rwanda.
The rebel fighters were incorporated into the DR Congo army in 2009 as part of a peace deal in the troubled, mineral-rich eastern region. They quit the army this year in a dispute over salaries and poor conditions.