Rwanda, Congo Governments Support Rivals in Conflict, U.N. Panel Says

By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 13, 2008

UNITED NATIONS, Dec. 12 -- Rwanda and Congo have been backing rival rebel and militia groups locked in a violent conflict in eastern Congo that has displaced more than 250,000 civilians since August, according to a U.N. panel investigating sanctions violations.

The report by a panel of five U.N. experts who monitor Security Council sanctions against armed groups in eastern Congo provided the first evidence that the two governments have violated U.N. bans on military and financial support for armed proxies in eastern Congo.

The panel's 127-page report accuses Rwanda of sending military officers to eastern Congo in support of Laurent Nkunda, a rebel leader who routed the Congolese army and its allies in a military offensive. It also charges that Rwandan forces have repeatedly fired across the border at Congolese government troops and helped Nkunda's movement recruit soldiers in refugee camps inside Rwanda.

The panel found evidence that "Rwandan authorities have been complicit in the recruitment of soldiers, including children, have facilitated the supply of military equipment, and have sent officers and units from the Rwandan Defence Forces" to Congo in support of Nkunda's forces.

Nkunda has presented himself as a defender of the region's ethnic Tutsis from the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), an armed Rwandan Hutu movement that played a central role in orchestrating Rwanda's 1994 genocide. A former officer in the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front, which seized power in Rwanda in 1994, Nkunda has denied receiving Rwanda's military support.

The Congolese government has pledged to disarm the FDLR and enable the return of its members to Rwanda, where many would probably by prosecuted for their role in the genocide. But the U.N. panel said it had obtained "strong evidence" showing that the Congolese army has "collaborated extensively" with the FDLR since 2007.

Congo stands accused of supplying the Rwandan militia with large shipments of ammunition in exchange for participating in joint military operations against Nkunda's forces, according to the panel. The panel said that it has documented more than 98 satellite and cellphone calls between Congolese and FDLR commanders over the past year, and that Congolese troops routinely sold military supplies to the Rwandan exiles, including bullets for a dime apiece and uniforms for as much as $3 dollars each.

The report said that the FDLR and Nkunda's forces rely on financial and political support from businessmen and political supporters from as far away as Europe and the United States. They have also raised millions of dollars through a system of local taxation and through the exploitation of eastern Congo's mineral resources, such as gold, charcoal and coltan, a metallic ore that contains ingredients used in consumer electronics. It says that Rwandan authorities seized a shipment of uniforms destined for Nkunda's forces that came from Boston.

Rwanda's ambassador to the United States, James Kimonyo, said that the "allegations are baseless" and that the U.N. panel was simply restating unsubstantiated claims that have been leveled by Congo in the past.

Congo's U.N. ambassador, Atoki Ileka, said the panel's findings "confirm what I have been saying for years: that there is direct Rwandan involvement in what's going on" in eastern Congo. He also conceded that he "was not surprised" by allegations that Congolese government forces were collaborating with the Rwandan militia.

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