WASHINGTON – Ethan Freedman - (IPS) - After weeks of delay, the United Nations released Monday its full annex by the U.N. Security Council condemning the Rwandan government for its support of Congolese rebels. The 48-page annex, which was leaked partially last week, claims that the Rwandan government was instrumental in the militarisation of M23, a mutinous movement that is allegedly led by, among others, Bosco Ntaganda, a military official wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes relating to the recruitment and use of child soldiers.
Officials say 19 people died and thousands more were displaced from their homes in June, a byproduct of fighting between the M23 and government militia in the eastern Kivu provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
“The war in Congo is bursting into flames, sparked by a new rebellion that Rwanda appears to not only have aided, but that it helped create,” Sasha Lezhnev, senior policy advisor at the Enough Project, a humanitarian group focused on the Congo, told IPS.
“There was a drive to cut off Rwanda’s access to the conflict minerals trade, and the new M23 rebellion was created in large part to retake control of it.”
The main group of Congolese rebels have called themselves M23 -otherwise known the March 23 Movement – after the date of a 2009 peace treaty between the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) and the military.
The CNDP, which was the first incarnation of the M23, switched from a rebel group into a political party after the treaty, and temporarily aligned with the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC). The M23 movement started in March after former CNDP members complained of the conditions in the military.
The U.S. had been accused by Congolese officials of protecting the Rwandan government by delaying the release of the U.N. report.
“There is a risk of the Security Council losing any credibility. We don’t understand the position of the U.S.,” Atoki Ileka, a senior Congolese ambassador, said at the time.
“This will do nothing to protect the people of eastern Congo and will not bring stability to the region. The path they are taking is not intelligent.”
Victoria Nuland, a spokesperson for the U.S. State Department, said in a statement Saturday that the United States is “deeply concerned about the report’s findings that Rwanda is implicated in the provision of support to Congolese rebel groups.”
Nuland said the U.S. had “asked Rwanda to halt and prevent the provision of such support from its territory”.
The war in these Central and Eastern African nations has also been rife with conflicts of interests, according to some.
“At the same time, the U.S. is training some units of the Congolese army … (while) other Anglo-Saxon companies enjoy the lion share in all mining contracts in Congo,” Antoine Roger Lokongo, a London-based Congolese investigative journalist, told IPS. “But still the U.S. supports Rwanda against Congo.”
Nevertheless, the U.S. gave the DRC more than 350 million dollars in combined aid in 2010, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The U.S. also has strong financial ties to the DRC through a bilateral investment treaty, one of 41 investment treaties the U.S. has in total, meant to strengthen economic ties between the two countries.
Human rights groups had been pushing for more sustained pressure on the Rwandan government by major global players. “The UK and U.S. governments are the two largest bilateral donors to Rwanda,” Sophia Pickles, an activist at Global Witness, said in a statement Friday. “This gives them significant influence and in cases like this they have a responsibility to use it.
“They cannot stand by and watch a regime they bankroll orchestrating a new war in Congo. The lives of thousands of Congolese civilians, as well as the stability of the region, are on the line.”
The Rwandan government, which is vying for a seat on the U.N. Security Council, has been quick to deny the allegations in the report that they have supported the rebels.
“Of course, Rwanda’s top army leadership in no way would be involved in destroying the peace they have been working very hard to build,” said Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo.
Diplomatic relations between Rwanda and neighbouring DRC have soured following the U.N. report, which also stated that top Rwandan government officials, including General James Kabarebe, the Rwandan minister of defence, were behind the recruitment and mobilisation of Rwandan citizens who back the rebellion.
In June, Lambert Mende Omalanga, the DRC’s minister of communications, stated that 200 rebel soldiers had been killed since March, and more than 370 had surrendered – including 25 Rwandan citizens.
According to Human Rights Watch, Rwandan military officials provided weapons, ammunition, and an estimated 200 to 300 recruits to support Ntaganda and his militia. They also published eyewitness testimony attesting to the execution of recruits who tried to escape.
“I saw six people who were killed because they tried to flee. They were shot dead, and I was ordered to bury their bodies,” an unnamed Rwandan soldier, who was forced into Ntaganda’s army, told Human Rights Watch. “All of us wanted to flee to the government troops, but many of us didn’t know how and we were scared.”
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