Fighting in the Kivus divides the UN Security Council

Is Rwanda backing a new rebellion in the eastern Congo? Is the region returning to the turmoil of 2008, when the Rwandan-backed CNDP, battled the Congolese army, which was allied to a host of local militias? These are questions that many hope might be answered, at least in part, by a UN report that will be submitted this coming week. There are, however, indications, that the publication might be vetoed.

Rwandan involvement in the recent fighting, which is still confined to a tiny patch of land of about twenty square kilometers, has fueled much debate in recent weeks. Most foreign diplomats in Kinshasa – as well as some in Kigali I have spoken with – privately agree with the conclusions of Human Rights Watch, that Rwanda is helping M23 recruit soldiers, and is possibly also supplying the rebels with food, weapons and free passage through their territory.

Kigali, however, has vehemently denied the allegations, and aside from expressions of concerns by diplomats – including a letter from Washington a few weeks ago – there have been few concrete demarches by capitals. Meanwhile, after a week of calm, the fighting saw a brief peak again on Thursday, when M23 was almost able to take a large military camp at Rumangabo and cut off the Bunagana road.

Now the diplomatic focus is shifting to New York, where, in response to the allegations of Rwandan involvement, the UN Security Council called yesterday for a “full investigation of credible reports of outside support to the armed groups.”

This statement was more than puzzling. At the same time at the Chinese president of the council signed the statement, the UN Group of Experts was in the process of submitting its interim report, which reportedly includes investigations into these very allegations. According to diplomats working for Security Council members, one of their colleagues is threatening to obstruct the publication of the report in the coming week. The justification given for this would be that the submission of the report flouted procedural rules, but the diplomats I spoke to pointed to larger, political disagreements linked to the allegations of Rwandan involvement in the eastern Congo.

Meanwhile, Congolese diplomats have upped their campaign against Rwanda, with their foreign minister traveling to Dar es Salaam and Bujumbura, while security officials visited Kampala during this past week. Ambassador Ileka Atoki, who is currently posted to Paris but used to be the Congo’s permanent representative to the United Nations, is headed to New York this week to make the case to the Security Council, and specifically asking for the UN report to be made public.