Rwanda’s defense minister is commanding a rebellion in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DR Congo) east that is being armed by Rwanda and Uganda, both of which sent troops to aid the insurgency in a deadly attack on UN peacekeepers, a UN report said.
The UN Security Council’s Group of Experts said in a confidential report that Rwanda and Uganda — despite their strong denials — continued to support M23 rebels in their six-month fight against Congolese government troops in North Kivu Province.
“While Rwandan officials coordinated 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,” the report said.
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 coordination with allied armed groups, the UN report said.
Both Ntaganda and Makenga “receive direct military orders from RDF [Rwandan Defense Force] Chief of Defense Staff General Charles Kayonga, who in turn acts on instructions from [Rwandan] Minister of Defense General James Kabarebe,” it said.
Uganda and Rwanda have denied the accusations of involvement by the UN experts, who monitor compliance with sanctions and an arms embargo on the Congo and 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 said. “Rwanda continues to violate the arms embargo through direct military support to M23 rebels, facilitation of recruitment, encouragement and facilitation of FARDC [the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo] desertions as well as the provision of arms and ammunition, intelligence, and political advice.”
“UPDF [Ugandan People’s Defense Force] commanders sent troops and weapons to reinforce specific M23 operations and assisted in M23’s recruitment and weapons procurement efforts in Uganda,” it said.
Nearly half a million people have been displaced due to the fighting. M23 has proven so resilient that one senior UN diplomatic source told reporters that Rwanda has effectively “annexed” mineral-rich eastern Congo area thanks to the rebel force.
UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said last month that the rebels had set up de facto administration in the Congo, controling 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, the report said.
An interim report from the Group of Experts that was published in June raised similar accusations against Rwanda, but with far less detail. Kigali was furious about that report, saying it was one-sided and contained false allegations.
Rwanda has backed armed movements in the Congo during the past two decades, citing a need to tackle Rwandan rebels operating out of Congo’s eastern hills.
The new report said that M23 had expanded its control of Rutshuru Territory with extensive foreign support in July and had taken advantage of a recent informal ceasefire “to expand alliances and command proxy operations elsewhere.”
The experts said that 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 these attacks, the rebels killed a UN peacekeeper and fired on a UN peacekeeping base at Kiwanja, Congo.
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.”
Rwandan President Paul Kagame reiterated Rwanda’s denials at a high-level meeting in New York last month that both he and Congolese President Joseph Kabila attended.
The Group of Experts said that it has corroborated its findings with multiple intelligence sources.
“Various South African Development Community, European, Ugandan, and Burundian intelligence agents also confirmed the group’s findings concerning Rwandan violations of the [arms] embargo,” the report said.
It added that the Rwandans have stepped up recruitment for M23, which has around 1,250 soldiers.
It said the Rwandan army was targeting Rwandan demobilized soldiers and civilians and Congolese refugees to recruit for M23, while M23 itself has stepped up its use and recruitment of child soldiers.
Since May, the experts said M23 has recruited about 250 children and killed dozens who tried to escape.
“M23 uses boys on the frontlines as cover for advancing units, often after a week of training,” the experts said. “Others act as porters, intelligence operatives and bodyguards. The rebels use young girls as cooks and as commanders’ wives.”