UN experts: `Substantial evidence’ of Rwanda forces in Congo

Dec 22, 2022, 11:25 PM | Updated: Dec 23, 2022, 1:33 pm

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — U.N. experts say they found “substantial evidence” of Rwandan government forces crossing into neighboring eastern Congo, either to reinforce M23 rebels or to conduct military operations against another rebel group that includes fighters accused of taking part in the 1994 Rwanda genocide.

According to excerpts from the latest report from the panel of experts obtained Friday by The Associated Press, weapons, ammunition and uniforms were also provided to the M23 rebels. The group resurfaced more than a year ago and has been accused of killing civilians and seizing land in eastern Congo’s Rutshuru territory.

The panel said it also found “substantial evidence” of support given to several Congolese armed groups by members of Congo’s military, known as the FARDC, in Rutshuru. It said there is “cooperation between FARDC units and Congolese armed groups in Rutshuru territory.”

At the root of the current crisis between Rwanda and Congo is the 1994 genocide.

The carnage began when a plane carrying Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana was shot down, killing the leader, who like most Rwandans was an ethnic Hutu.

The country’s minority Tutsis were blamed, and although they denied it, bands of Hutu extremists began killing them, including children, with support from Rwanda’s army, police and militias.

The genocide killed more than 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus who tried to protect them. Thousands of Hutus fled to neighboring eastern Congo.

Rwanda’s current president, Paul Kagame, a Tutsi and former opposition military commander, is widely credited with stopping the genocide, but he has become a polarizing figure in recent years, accused of leading an authoritarian government that crushes all dissent.

The M23 rebels are largely Congolese ethnic Tutsis who became prominent 10 years ago when their fighters seized Goma, eastern Congo’s largest city on the border with Rwanda. The group derives its name from a March 23, 2009, peace deal, which it accuses the Congo government of not implementing.

The FDLR movement, also mentioned by the panel of experts, is a Hutu rebel group opposed to Tutsi influence that reportedly includes Hutus who participated in Rwanda’s genocide.

Renewed attacks by M23 rebels have angered Congo’s government and led to talk of war in eastern Congo, a volatile region rich in minerals critical to much of the world’s technology. This month, the United Nations accused the rebels of massacring more than 130 civilians in two villages.

Early this week, France and Germany joined international pressure on Rwanda, openly accusing the country of supporting rebels in eastern Congo, which could have repercussions for foreign aid that Rwanda has long enjoyed.

The Rwandan government issued a statement Wednesday calling accusations that it is supporting M23 “wrong” and part of a “tired old blame game” undermining efforts by regional leaders to find a lasting peace, “to which Rwanda is fully committed.”

It accused Congo’s government of failing to deal with “the over 130 armed groups on its territory” and hold accountable Congolese soldiers for serious abuses against civilians and “the genocidal remnant militia FDLR, which has been preserved for decades” in the country.

The statement cites cross-border attacks into Rwanda by Congolese troops and the FDLR, says Rwanda hosts over 800,000 Congolese refugees in camps, many for over 20 years, and accuses the U.N. peacekeeping mission that has been in eastern Congo for more than 22 years and costs over $1 billion a year of achieving “little tangible results.”

M23 rebels retreated Friday from some territory they had seized in eastern Congo, a welcome first withdrawal, but regional experts said it is a fraction of the territory they control. The M23 positions in Kibumba, in North Kivu, were taken over by the new East African Regional Force given the job of protecting the area.

Lawrence Kanyuka, M23´s political spokesman, said in a statement the retreat was in line with an agreement made last month at a summit in Angola.

At the Nov. 23 summit, which included Congo’s president and Rwanda’s foreign minister, leaders called for a cease-fire in eastern Congo to be followed by a withdrawal of rebels from major towns under M23 control — Bunagana, Rutshuru and Kiwanja.

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