17. August 2022

Rwanda backing M23 rebels in DRC: UN experts

17

A UN group of experts finds ‘solid evidence’ that Kigali is supporting M23 fighters despite repeated denials.

Rwandan troops attacked soldiers inside DR Congo and aided the M23 rebel group with weapons and support, a United Nations group of experts said, citing “solid evidence” despite reiterated denials by Kigali.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo repeatedly accused Rwanda of backing the militia, which stems from the long fallout from the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and has captured swathes of territory in recent months. Kigali repeatedly denied supporting M23 and the armed group maintains it does not receive Rwandan support.

A 131-page report by United Nations Security Council experts found Rwanda launched military interventions inside Congolese territory since at least November 2021, providing “troop reinforcements” for specific M23 operations, “in particular when these aimed at seizing strategic towns and areas”.

Yolande Makolo, Rwanda’s government spokesperson, said in a statement the government would not comment on an “unpublished and unvalidated report.” She said an earlier report by the experts’ group in June “contained none of these false allegations”.

DRC government spokesman Patrick Muyaya welcomed the work of the UN group on Thursday. “The truth always triumphs in the end. We hope that conclusions will be drawn quickly to put an end to Rwanda’s interference and bring back lasting peace,” Muyaya wrote on Twitter.

The UN experts found evidence that M23 fighters and Rwandan troops “jointly attacked” a large DRC army base in Rumangabo, in eastern North Kivu province, on May 25, a day after Rwandan forces had crossed into the DRC.

An estimated 1,000 Rwandan troops also cut the main highway leading to the provincial capital Goma, an important commercial hub on the Rwandan border, and attacked Congolese positions, it said.

“On repeated occasions, aerial imagery showed large columns of up to 500 armed men in the vicinity of the DRC, Rwandan and Ugandan borders, moving in a very organized manner,” the expert group said.

The columns of soldiers wore “standardized military attire” that bore close resemblance to Rwandan army uniforms, the report added.

Some 300 Rwandan troops also conducted operations against rebel groups in eastern DRC, such as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a Rwandan Hutu rebel group that Kigali views as a threat.

The UN report also found the Congolese army supported militias active in the east of the country.

A coalition of armed groups formed in May with the knowledge of Congolese officers, the report said. Leaders of several militias confirmed to the experts that the Congolese army provided them with weapons and munitions “on several occasions”, it added.

The DRC and Rwanda have had strained relations since the mass influx of Rwandan Hutus accused of slaughtering Tutsis during the 1994 Rwanda genocide.

The M23 was formed in 2012 claiming to defend the interests of Congolese Tutsis, a group sharing the ethnicity of Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame, against Hutu militias.

Since May, the M23 has waged its most sustained offensive in years, killing dozens and displacing tens of thousands of people. By July, it controlled a territory almost three times as large as it did in March, the UN group said.

The M23’s resurgence has inflamed regional tensions and spurred deadly protests against the UN peacekeeping mission in DRC, which civilians accuse of failing to protect them.

Credit: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES

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