The UN report on Rwandan intervention in the eastern Congo

The UN Group of Experts on the DR Congo submitted the celebrated addendum to its interim report yesterday. The addendum (apparently the correct terminology) is due to be published later today or tomorrow, but, Security Council politics being what they are, leaked copies are already circulating. I have obtained one; here is a summary and a brief analysis.

The report deals exclusively with Rwandan support to armed groups and sanctioned individuals in the eastern Congo, and the findings are extremely damning. The Group finds that Rwanda is providing extensive support not just to the M23 rebellion, but to six other armed groups in the eastern Congo. Some of the support allegedly dates back to last year, although most of Rwanda’s early involvement was aimed at assassinating individual FDLR leaders, using proxy militia such as Sheka Ntaberi’s NDC or the FDC (aka “Les Guides”). At some point, however, Rwanda’s aims changed, and they began backing groups that opposed the Congolese government. These included the M23, but also include a new coalition of armed groups in Ituri, an abortive mutiny in Bukavu, the irredentist former governor of South Kivu (Chiribanya) and a local militia in Masisi. This attempt to build a cross-regional coalition is reminiscent of Nkunda’s CNDP, that was always trying to break out of the Kinyarwanda-speaking community and rally other communities and leaders to its cause.

However, most of these other groups are either barely alive or not (yet) very important. As in the case with the CNDP, the outreach efforts have not gained much traction. The main group is still the M23.

But when it comes to the M23, the allegations are hard-hitting. The support they document consists of providing ammunition and guns, health care, training, and new recruits. They also provide details of meetings organized by top Rwandan officials, including senior defense ministry representatives, to mobilize Congolese business and politicians to join M23. They claim that the Rwandan government has used its demobilization commission networks to mobilize ex-combatants, many of whom used to fight in the FDLR, as well as allowing recruitment to happen in the refugee camps largely populated by Congolese Tutsi. Most egregiously, they report that Rwanda has sent its own army into the Congo to support the mutiny on several occasions.

The Group names individuals within the Rwandan government by name, saying that the following people played key roles: Defense Minister General James Kabarebe, the Defense Forces Chief of Staff General Charles Kayonga, the Permanent Secretary of the ministry of Defense General Jack Nziza, and Rwandan army division commander General Emmanuel Ruvusha. These officers have attended mobilization meetings, been in direct contact with mutineers, and have been seen organizing logistical support to the M23.

On the M23 side, besides Col. Sultani Makenga and Gen. Bosco Ntaganda, Laurent Nkunda is making a reappearance in M23 meetings and mobilization. The Group has also found that Rwanda is supporting individuals – Gen. Ntaganda, Col. Zimurinda and Sheka – who are on the UN sanctions list.

The Rwandan government has already attacked the Group’s methodology, so it is worth saying a few words about who they are and what standards they use.

The Group consists of six experts: Steve Hege (USA, coordinator and armed groups expert), Marie Plamadiala (Moldova, customs and aviation), Ruben de Koenig (Netherlands, natural resources), Steven Spittaels (Belgium, finance), Nelson Alusala (Kenya, arms), and Emilie Serralta (France, regional issues). Most of them – like Hege, who is a former MONUC official and has worked for Jesuit Refugee Service and Refugee International in the region – have spent over five years working on the region.

The Group usually requires three independent and reliable sources to make a claim. In this case, however, given the severity and importance of the allegations, they say they rely on at least five such sources. Most of the evidence is eye-witness testimony – they interviewed 80 deserters from these various armed groups, including 31 Rwandan nationals, along with senior Congolese army and intelligence officers and active members of the various armed groups. They have some documentary evidence, including internal Congolese army reports and radio intercepts, as well as pictures of M23 weapons and ammo that are not in Congolese army stocks.

In other words, there is extensive evidence of systematic Rwandan intervention in the DRC in violation of the UN sanctions regime, not to mention of Congolese sovereignty. Many questions, however, remain open: Why is Rwanda doing this? What is their ultimate goal? When did they decide to back these rebellions? What will the international community, which provides almost half of Rwanda’s budget – including military cooperation and support to the demobilization commission – do? And what will the Rwandan reaction be, given that donors have invested billions in successful development projects, and Rwanda provides much-needed troops to the African Union mission in Darfur?

Posted by Jason Stearns at 2:31 PM