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Democratic Republic of Congo: Rwanda Accused in North Kivu Violence

Since April 2012, North Kivu province in the eastern Congo has been destabilised by the March 23 movement (M23), comprised of fighters from the Tutsi-led National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP). Within the framework of the March 23, 2009 Kinshasa peace treaty after which they take their name, M23 started to include members of the Congolese Armed Forces (FARDC) in its ranks. Bosco Ntaganda was also promoted to Army General within FARDC, while the CNDP became a political party as a result of this agreement.

Although they have occupied key FARDC posts since the treaty, most soldiers defected from the Congolese National Army in March 2012, unhappy with the lack of respect shown to the agreement by the Congolese government. It is believed that there was more to this defection than met the eye, and that there was also a desire to divide the country. At the time of writing, July 2012, the M23 continues to cause enormous loss of life and massive displacement of people.

M23 Rebels used with permission via blatantworld.com on FlickR

Demands of the M23:

M23 spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Vianney Kazarama stated [fr]:

Nous demandons au gouvernement de la République Démocratique du Congo de fournir des efforts pour l’éradication des forces négatives à l’Est, notamment les FDLR (Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda, une rébellion constituée d’hutu rwandais, ndlr) Nous demandons le retour de tous les Congolais réfugiés, vivant à l’extérieur du pays, en exil ; la reconnaissance des grades formels de tous les officiers des groupes armés et ceux du CNDP en particulier, l’intégration politique des membres du CNDP au sein du gouvernement central.

We demand that the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo pushes for efforts to eradicate the negative forces from the East, notably the FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, a collection of rebels consisting of Rwandan Hutus, NDLR). We demand the return from exile of all Congolese refugees living outside the country; the recognition of the formal grades of officers from the grouped armies, in particular those of the CNDP, the political integration of the CNDP members to the heart of central government.

Serious consequences for the civilian population

The start of this rebellion has unleashed a new war in North Kivu causing loss of life and massive displacement of people. During the past few weeks, the M23 has increased from one thousand to two thousand fighters and taken control of several towns in the province. This increase in violence has displaced more than 200,000 and made more than 30,000 seek refuge in Rwanda and Uganda.
The following video by Amnesty International illustrates the plight of the population in North Kivu [fr] :

The controversial role of Rwanda

Several regional experts think that the Rwandan government will be implicated in supporting the M23. Reports from the United Nations (UN) and Human Rights Watch denounce the country's indirect participation in this conflict. It is believed Rwanda provided arms to the M23 and sent troops to fight alongside the rebels.

An annex of the Annual Report of the UN Sanctions Committee on the DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo), made public [fr] at the start of July 2012, stated that the Rwandan armed forces:

« fournissent du matériel militaire, des armes, des munitions et des fournitures diverses aux rebelles du M23 » et octroient soutien et protection au général rebelle Bosco Ntaganda, recherché par la Cour pénale internationale (CPI) pour crimes de guerre.

“provide military equipment, arms, ammunition and various materials to the M23 rebels” as well as granting support and protection to the rebel General Bosco Ntaganda, wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes.

The accusations of the UN experts are based on the anonymous testimonies of eighty rebel deserters, including thirty one Rwandans from the M23.

It is believed that the UN experts have proof [fr] that several high ranking Rwandans, including Defence Minister James Kabarebe, are in permanent contact with the M23:

Aujourd’hui les Nations-Unies disposent de preuves que la guerre à l’Est de la RDC est traitée au Rwanda comme une affaire d’Etat, puisque ce sont les hauts dignitaires du régime de Kigali qui se chargent de ce dossier.

Today the UN has proof that the war in the eastern Congo is treated like an affair of state, while it is the high dignitaries of the Kigali regime who have the responsibility for this case.

Controversy over rebel deserters

On July 24, at the frontier at Goma, capital of North Kivu province in the eastern Congo, Rwanda refused [fr] to take back twenty four presumed Rwandan rebels from the M23. The rebels were supposed to be handed over to Rwanda by the UN, where they had surrendered after deserting the rebel group:

Les 24 mutins s'étaient rendus en mai à la Mission de l'ONU en RDC (Monusco) après avoir quitté les rangs du M23 dans la province du Nord-Kivu. Ils avaient déclaré à la Monusco être des citoyens rwandais, qu'ils avaient été recrutés au Rwanda avant d'être envoyés en RDC pour rejoindre le M23. La Monusco les a ramenés samedi à la frontière pour les remettre aux autorités rwandaises, mais celles-ci ont refusé de les récupérer en expliquant qu'elles “ne pouvaient pas prendre des gens du M23″, a déclaré à l'AFP un porte-parole de la Monusco à Goma.

In May, the twenty four rebels surrendered to the UN Mission in the DRC (Monusco), after leaving the M23 in North Kivu province. They had declared to Monusco that they were Rwandan citizens, that they had been recruited in Rwanda before being sent to the DRC to join the M23. Monusco took them to the frontier on Saturday to hand them to the Rwandan authorities, but they refused to take them back, explaining that they “could not take people from the M23”, stated a Monusco spokesperson in Goma to the AFP.

While the UN and Human Rights Watch have proof that Rwanda is implicated in the destabilisation of the DRC, the Information Minister of the Congolese government confirmed [fr] these allegations:

C'est avec colère que le ministre des médias, relations avec le parlement, initiation à la nouvelle citoyenneté et porte-parole du gouvernement, Lambert Mende Omalanga s'est adressé aux journalistes à Goma samedi 09 juin. Au cours d'un point presse, Lambert Mende a communiqué le rapport du gouvernement concernant la situation sécuritaire au Kivu. Il n'a pas mâché les mots au sujet des relations entre Kinshasa et Kigali : ” Une chose est indéniable : le territoire rwandais a servi à la préparation d'une conspiration qui, après avoir commencé comme une simple mutinerie, évolue dangereusement vers un schéma de rupture de la paix entre deux pays de la région des Grands Lacs.

The Minister of Media, Public Relations, Citizenship as well as government spokesperson, Lambert Mendé Omalanga addressed journalists angrily in Goma on Saturday June 9. During a press briefing Lambert Mendé communicated the government report on the Kivu security situation. He didn't mince his words on the subject of relations between Kinshas and Kigali: “One thing is undeniable: the Rwandan territory has been used in preparing a conspiracy which, after having started like a simple revolt, evolved dangerously towards a plan of rupture of the peace between two countries in the Great Lakes region”

Despite significant proof showing Rwanda to be implicated in the support of these rebels, Rwanda continues to deny all the assertions, which they consider baseless.

During a June 19 press conference in the Rwandan capital Kigali, Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda affirmed that:

«le Rwanda n’est pas la cause des problèmes du Congo [..] », indiquant que les problèmes congolais doivent être réglé par les congolais eux même.

“Rwanda is not the cause of the problems in the Congo [..] ”, indicating that the Congolese problems should be resolved by the Congolese themselves.

The situation in North Kivu province remains extremely tense, as the number of displaced people is constantly growing. Young people of Goma deplore the Rwandan support of the M23 rebels. To show their anger, they demanded arms [fr] to fight the rebels:

La journée du lundi 9 juillet 2012 a été caractérisée par des actes d'une barbarie sans nom. En effet, les jeunes de la ville de Goma, essentiellement les conducteurs des taxis motos communément appelés motards dans cette ville, ont manifesté dans les villes de la région. Certains ont pris le contrôle des ronds-points de la ville (Signers, TMK et Birere, Corniche) ; d'autres ont occupé une partie de la frontière entre le Rwanda et la RDC; d'autres enfin se sont dirigés vers les centres du pouvoir (Gouvernorat et Région militaire).

The day of Monday July 9, 2012 was characterised by acts of unspeakable barbarism. So the young people of Goma, mainly motorbike taxi drivers known here as bikers, demonstrated in towns throughout the region. Some took control of town roundabouts (Signers, TMK and Birere, Corniche); others occupied a portion of the frontier between Rwanda and the DRC; others went towards the centres of power (Governorate and Military Region).

These young people are frustrated by the setbacks at the front suffered by the FARDC militaries, as well as by the fact that several towns were already in the hands of the M23.

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