DRC Crisis: Rwanda makes case before UN sanctions committee

RWANDA last evening appeared before the UN’s DRC Sanctions Committee to officially present its rebuttal to allegations by a UN Panel of Experts (GoE) that Kigali was backing the M23 rebels who are fighting the Congo government.
Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo. The New Times/File.
Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo. The New Times/File.

RWANDA last evening appeared before the UN’s DRC Sanctions Committee to officially present its rebuttal to allegations by a UN Panel of Experts (GoE) that Kigali was backing the M23 rebels who are fighting the Congo government.

“We will officially present our case. Maj Patrick Karuretwa (Presidential security advisor) will make the presentation,” Olivier Nduhungirehe, First Counsellor, Permanent Mission of Rwanda to the UN, told The New Times yesterday.

The Rwandan delegation is led by Foreign affairs minister Louise Mushikiwabo, who is also today scheduled to brief the UN Security Council on recent political developments in the region, specifically regional efforts to end the Congo crisis.

It was expected that Congolese Foreign Minister Raymond Tshibanda and Steve Hege, the coordinator of the UN Group of Experts on the Congo, would also make presentations to the committee after Rwanda’s appearance.

While the Rwandan team was set to debunk the allegations by the Hege-led group that Kigali supplied the rebels with fighters and weapons, Tshibanda and Hege were expected to argue otherwise.

In July, an addendum to an interim report by the GoE implicated Rwanda in the crisis, but fell short of impartiality since it did not include any word from Kigali.

Later, Rwanda produced a rebuttal to the allegations and forwarded it to the UN Sanctions Committee. In its response, for instance, Kigali refuted allegations that M23 recruits had been trained from Kanombe military barracks, arguing that Kanombe was a garrison-type barracks that comprises “living quarters; a referral military hospital also open to civilians; a cemetery; and five service support units’ headquarters and related facilities”.

“It wouldn’t require any form of expertise to find out that this barracks cannot host the training of recruits or any other force preparation activity.”

The government also dismissed claims that the Rwanda Defence Forces (RDF) provided M23 commanders with 75mm cannons and their ammunition, saying RDF does not hold 75mm cannons in ordinance stores and has never purchased such cannons or their ammunition. “Remnants of these weapons and ammunition from the 1990-94 war of liberation were disposed of in 2008, which is well documented by the RDF ordinance regiment.

“Moreover, through RDF participation in several joint-operations with FARDC (Congolese army), including the recent operations codenamed Amani-Leo and Umoja-Wetu, the Government of Rwanda has credible information that FARDC, unlike RDF, maintains 75 mm cannons and anti-tank rifle grenades on their arms/ammunition inventory,” Kigali said in its rebuttal.

It later emerged that a 2008 UN GoE report had indicated that FARDC were indeed in possession of the ammunition in question.

In the weeks that followed, the Group of Experts came under pressure, after its coordinator, Hege, was accused of being anti-Kigali, owing to his past publications which depicted the Rwandan government in the negative light, describing it as “a Ugandan Tutsi elite”, while he appeared to advocate for the Congo-based Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), who are linked to the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

In one of his articles, “Understanding the FDLR in the DR Congo: Key facts on the disarmament & repatriation of Rwandan rebels”, published by Peace Appeal Foundation, on February 24, 2009, Hege wrote: “The FDLR must be viewed in light of the regional history of armed rebellions formed by refugees and/or political exiles who have eventually taken power back from undemocratic regimes”.

“The FDLR have not constituted a military threat to Rwanda for over five years...The FDLR would rather wait for political negotiations when international opinion eventually sours on the Rwandan regime,” he added in the same article.

And more recently, it also emerged that an ID which GoE recently claimed belonged to a Rwandan soldier before it was allegedly recovered in the Congo, instead belonged to a known Congolese army captain, identified as Janvier Saddat, with ID number 166964208920.

The officer in question, who was integrated into the FARDC as a former CNDP officer in 2009 but later arrested as a potential mutineer and imprisoned in Butembo, served as Company Commander within the 807th regiment, 1st Battalion, C Company, according to reports.

“Everything we know will be on the table,” Nduhungirehe told The New Times yesterday.

Allegations of Rwanda’s links with M23 rebels, who have seized parts of North Kivu province since fighting erupted in April, have since led some donors to either suspend or cut aid to Rwanda.

The rebel group is largely composed of former Congolese soldiers who mutinied in April after the collapse of a 2009 peace deal between then CNDP rebels and Kinshasa, which Kigali had helped broker. The rebels who accuse President Joseph Kabila’s government of reneging on its commitments under the previous accord, have since called for peace talks but Kinsasa has shown little interest in negotiations.

Both the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) and Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) have stepped up efforts to try and find a lasting solution to the crisis which has since driven hundreds of thousands out of their homes, with many fleeing across the Rwandan and Ugandan borders.

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