Rwandan minister is leader of Congo rebels, UN says

17 Oct

Wednesday 17 October 2012 19.57 BST

Leaked report names General James Kabarebe as de facto commander of militia accused of rape and other atrocities

James Kabarebe addresses soldiers pulling out of the eastern Democratic Repubic of Congo in September 2002. Photograph: Reuters

Pressure on Britain to halt aid to Rwanda is increasing after one of the closest allies of the president, Paul Kagame, was named as the de facto leader of a violent uprising in the Democratic Republic of the Congo(DRC).

In a leaked report, UN experts identified General James Kabarebe, the Rwandan defence minister, as effectively directing a Congolese rebel militia accused of killings, rapes and other atrocities.

The experts gave their most explicit and damning account yet of Rwanda’s military support for the insurgents in mineral-rich eastern Congo. They also accused Uganda of involvement, stating that both countries had sent troops to help rebels in a deadly attack on UN peacekeepers.

The fresh revelations prompted calls for the UK, Rwanda’s biggest bilateral donor, to reconsider its increasingly controversial support for Kagame.

“Britain must recognise that the money it is giving to the government is being used to kill people and cause destruction in a neighbouring country,” said Boniface Twagirimana, interim vice-president of the Rwandan opposition United Democratic Forces party. “It is for the British government to dictate conditions so the money supports the Rwandan people. Stop aid for the destruction of human rights.”

The full report by the UN security council’s group of experts is due to be made public on or around 20 November. A 44-page extract seen by Reuters this week claims Rwandan backing for the M23 militia goes as high as Kabarebe, who is said to have grown up with Kagame and been at his side in the military campaign that ended the 1994 genocide.

The report says Bosco Ntaganda, a former Congolese general nicknamed the Terminator, who is wanted by the international criminal court, controls the rebellion on the ground while Sultani Makenga is in charge of operations and co-ordination with allied armed groups.

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

Kabarebe has previously been implicated by Human Rights Watch, which interviewed a Congolese party leader who claimed Kabarebe instructed him to support the M23. The politician said that when he refused, Kaberebe told him to “shut up,” warning: “A lightning bolt will strike you”. A few days later, the politician was ousted by his party in Congo, Human Rights Watch said.

In an interview in August, Kabarebe, who for years has faced accusations of plundering Congo’s mineral resources, denied that the Rwandan army supported the M23. “Everyone knows that Rwanda does not have a single soldier amongst the M23 and does not give it any support,” he told the Belgian newspaper Le Soir.

The UN report says neighbouring Uganda is also assisting the M23 in its six-month fight against Congolese government troops in North Kivu province.

“Both Rwanda and Uganda have been supporting M23,” it states. “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.”

Justine Greening

David Cameron told MPs on Wednesday he had raised concerns about Rwanda’s support for the M23 directly with Kagame. But the prime minister added: “I continue to believe that investing in Rwanda’s success, as one of those countries in Africa that is showing that the cycle of poverty can be broken and that conditions for its people can be improved, is something we are right to do.”

Ivan Lewis, the shadow international development secretary, called on Britain to suspend its annual £37m direct aid budget to Rwanda. Andrew Mitchell restored £16m in aid last month, on his last day as international development secretary, after progress at the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region. He had suspended the aid in July after visiting the Kivus region of the DRC.

Lewis said: “The latest UN allegations of Rwanda’s continued support for militia activity in Eastern DRC raise further questions about Andrew Mitchell’s seemingly arbitrary decision to reinstate aid to Rwanda on his last day in office. It is now essential that Justine Greening [Mitchell’s successor] responds to these latest allegations by suspending budget support to Rwanda with immediate effect.”

Awkwardly for the UN, Rwanda, with the African Union‘s backing, looks certain to be elected as a non-permanent member of the security council on Thursday . The UN experts who monitor compliance with sanctions and an arms embargo on Congo delivered their report to the security council’s Congo sanctions committee earlier this month.

It continues: “Rwandan officials exercise overall command and strategic planning for M23. Rwanda continues to violate the arms embargo through direct military support to M23 rebels, facilitation of recruitment [and] 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.”

The uprising started in April, when a militia that had been absorbed into the Congolese army mutinied and went on the rampage. Since then, nearly 500,000 people have been displaced by fighting between M23 and the army.

The M23 has proven so resilient that one senior UN diplomatic source told Reuters Rwanda had effectively “annexed” eastern Congo, thanks to the rebel force. The UN peacekeeping chief, Hervé Ladsous, said last month the rebels had set up de facto administration in eastern 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 eastern Congo, according to the UN experts’ report, which builds on an interim document released in June

Heavy weapons

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 these 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.”

It adds that the Rwandans have stepped up recruitment for the M23, which has around 1,250 soldiers. The Rwandan army has targeted Rwandan demobilised soldiers and civilians and Congolese refugees to recruit for the M23, while the M23 itself has stepped up its 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.”

The group of experts said multiple intelligence sources corroborated its research. “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.

On Wednesday, Congo demanded targeted sanctions against the Rwandan and Ugandan officials involved. A government spokesman, Lambert Mende, told Reuters: “It’s more important than ever, as now we have proof that the drama in North Kivu is being manipulated by criminals who hold positions of power.

“We’ve taken note of this report, which confirms what we already know about Rwanda and contains new information about Uganda … We’re in contact with our neighbours in Uganda over these very serious allegations.”

But Ugandan military spokesman Felix Kulayigye rejected the report. “Where’s the evidence for their claims?” he demanded. “Some of those so-called experts came here and did not interview anyone. “Where are their authentic facts to back those claims? Those accusations are absolute rubbish – hogwash.”

Rwanda has also gone on the offensive. Louise Mushikiwabo, its foreign affairs minister, posted tweets condemning “the disgraceful leak” and accusing the group of experts’ coordinator, Steve Hege, of bias. “The leak of the final report confirms Hege & GoE [Group of Experts] are in a determined political campaign opposed to resolving true causes of conflict in EDRC [Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo],” she wrote.

In an interview with the Guardian earlier this month, Mushikiwabo insisted: “This report, we would never take seriously. It’s done unprofessionally; the methodology is flawed; it’s full of facts that are not facts. At best, this report is disputable, which is why we regret that countries would take it seriously or even take some decisions based on this.”

The minister confirmed that Britain has been raising the Congo issue in phone calls and meetings. “It’s not awkward because friends talk freely but yes, M23 and the whole instability in the eastern Congo has been the topic over the last many months … This is a complex issue that is made even more complex by some of the misunderstandings and superficial analysis of the situation.”

In Rwanda, meanwhile, Mike Hammond, the new head of the department for international development in the country, held his first meeting with Kagame. “Obviously the question of the group of experts’ report that came out this week was raised,” he told journalists. “We talked about the impact on development funding and we looked at the steps that we all wanted to take to keep Rwanda’s development progess going.”

Asked about the leaked UN report, Hammond replied: “Since I only saw it this morning I can’t really answer that. It’s one of the factors that you take into account when you’re looking at a development relationship with any country. So yes: we will read it, we will take it into account, and we will talk to the Rwandans about it.”

Source: The Guardian

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