MUTOBO - Former members of the rebel Forces Democratiques de Liberation du Rwanda (FDLR) have accused the UN Mission in Congo (MONUC) of selling back to them weapons that had been seized by the UN body during the disarmament process.
Speaking during the repatriation ceremony held at Mutobo Demobilisation Center, the former rebels said they had witnessed MONUC selling arms got during the disarmament process back to FDLR leaders.
“I was the middleman. I could go negotiate with MONUC officials immediately after the disarmament and I could report back to the commanders. FDLR could either purchase the guns or exchange minerals with guns,” said former FDLR combatant Fabien Wabarinda.
“Sometimes when we (FDLR) planned to attack a certain area in the DRC, we could sell some minerals like gold and coltan to MONUC in return for guns,” Wabarinda testified.
Asked if the guns were not labeled, Wabarinda said that the gun numbers and the labels would be removed before the guns were handed back to the FDLR. Another former combatant also accused MONUC of killing FDLR rebels who expressed a wish to repatriate.
“When I was serving in the Democratic Republic of Congo Armed Forces (FARDC), we formed a group of 18 Rwandans and approached MONUC to assist in repatriating us. Instead, we were taken to Kisangani and handed over to a MONUC Senegalese commander who tortured us. Fourteen people, who we suspect were killed, were taken away from our group,” narrated Alfred Ritikanga.
He added that the unnamed Senegalese officer had threatened to exterminate them if they insisted they wanted to go home (Rwanda).
The former combatants revealed that the FDLR rebels have become well-entrenched in the South and North Kivu provinces and have developed diverse sources of finance such as control of mineral deposits including gold mines in Kilembwe (South Kivu), and the introduction of taxes paid by traders at roadblocks.
Sylvere Nsabimana, who is also among the repatriated group, said he owned a coltan mining deposit in DRC and that he used to pay taxes to FDLR; adding that sometimes FARDC would confiscate his minerals.
Asked how FDLR carried out its business, Nsabimana said: “They transport the minerals to their general collection points near the mining deposits and later transport the minerals by road to their headquarters.”
Another former combatant, Innocent Twahirwa said that FDLR survive mostly from taxes collected from markets in areas under their control, and that people operating there are by order required to pay a levy to them.
He said that FDLR has smuggling networks with FARDC that provide a constant flow of arms, which indicates that there are close links between some FARDC elements and FDLR.
He added that FDLR and FARDC have an ad hoc revenue-sharing arrangement and that sometimes FDLR receives AK-47s, hand grenades, rocket-propelled grenades, from both MONUC and FARDC.
The accusations leveled against MONUC are a serious impediment to the implementation of the Nairobi Communiqué calling for immediate disarmament and repatriation of FDLR rebels.
However, MONUC has disassociated itself from the allegations, saying that they were old and that those who were implicated were no longer working with MONUC. According to a MONUC officer, Diao Tahirou, the allegations were raised by BBC sometime back.
“These are old allegations that we cannot consider anymore. The implicated people were sent back to their respective countries,” said Tahirou.
“The allegations are frustrating but such cases are particular and should not be generalised,” said Jean Michel, the chairman of a Task Force of the Joint Monitoring Group set up to implement the November 2007 Nairobi Communiqué.”
He added that he was optimistic that the issues mentioned by the repatriated people would be ironed out if there are concerted efforts from all parties concerned.
Asked if MONUC has kept the pace in implementing the Nairobi Communiqué, Tahirou said, “We are in a slow process and we need concrete steps to overcome this slowness. However, MONUC is putting its maximum efforts to have the Nairobi Communiqué implemented in the best way possible,” said Tahirou.
The function at Mutobo was also attended by Colonel Augustin Mamba from the DRC.