Rwanda’s President, Paul Kagame, has accused the United Nations of betraying a pledge to combat Hutu extremists in eastern Congo and then blaming his country for the failure of a costly peacekeeping mission to end years of conflict.
In an interview with the Guardian, Kagame dismissed accusations that Rwanda is backing the Tutsi rebel leader, Laurent Nkunda, who has seized swaths of territory in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in recent weeks, committing war crimes and prompting another refugee crisis.
“The international community spends $1,2-billion every year on that mission in the Congo. Why would the international community spend so much and say they want to come and deal with the problem and they don’t deal with it?
“This kind of simplistic approach has to stop by people who run the world, and they [must] really take the bull by the horns and deal with the issue,” he said.
“That is the reason why people have decided to shift the blame and load it on the shoulders of Rwanda and the Rwandan government just because, in my view, they cannot justify all this. They are in the Congo to support the government to stand on its own feet and solve its own problems. They haven’t been very successful. When the problem that was not resolved keeps coming back, they simply say, let’s blame it on Rwanda.”
Rwanda has been accused of providing weapons, soldiers and other backing for Nkunda and his rebel National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) as a means of keeping at bay Hutu extremists who carried out the 1994 genocide of Rwanda’s Tutsis, and then fled into Democratic Republic of Congo. Nkunda says he is fighting to defend Congolese Tutsis from the Hutu forces.
At his official residence in Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, Kagame said that his government’s ties to Nkunda were superficial. “We’re only linked with Nkunda and the CNDP just by accident of history and the fact that these are Congolese who speak Kinyarwanda, and we share borders with Congo,” he said.
But evidence suggests the links go deeper. Nkunda was an intelligence officer in Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Front army that in 1994 overthrew the Hutu government that organised the genocide.
The Congolese Tutsi rebel leader also played his part when Rwanda invaded DRC—then called Zaire—in 1996 to clear out the refugee camps that had become a base for the defeated Hutu forces to attack Rwanda, and again two years later for a lengthy war that widened to bring in countries such as Angola and Zimbabwe.
Rwanda’s critics say Nkunda is still acting on Kigali’s behalf. They accuse Rwanda of backing him as a proxy in its continuing conflict with Hutu exiles who set up a rebel group, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), which controls about 40% of the two Congolese provinces on Rwanda’s western border.
UN officials also suggest that some Rwandan officials are making tidy sums out of the plunder of minerals in Nkunda-held areas and shipped out via Kigali.
Kagame acknowledged that Nkunda was serving Rwanda’s interests by providing a buffer between its border and the FDLR. But he said that was not a long-term solution. “Does anybody find sense here that if Rwanda is doing the best it can to overcome its own difficulties—only to create problems outside?” asked Kagame.
He said that with Rwanda reorienting itself towards East Africa and the English-speaking world, and trying to build a reputation as a business-friendly, technologically advanced destination for foreign investment, it was not in Kigali’s interests to perpetuate the instability in DRC.
“As to whether therefore Nkunda would really be looked at as a solution by Rwanda and therefore supported by Rwanda in this respect, that’s not the case. It wouldn’t be our choice to look at Nkunda as a solution to our problem.”
Kagame said the solution was for the UN to send a fighting force to replace the world’s largest, and largely ineffective, peacekeeping operation. He wanted that force to fulfil UN commitments to pacify and disarm Hutu rebels and other groups.
“I would be happy if that was the case. Really. In fact I’m intending to speak to President Kabila [of DRC]. As a way of getting this unjustified blame off Rwanda, maybe we should make an approach to the UN and really ask what the UN can do in an effective way to deal with this problem.
“Can they put together a force to actually deal with all these problems that need military force to deal with it—whether it is FDLR, whether it is other groups fighting the government or even actually, dare I say this, even if this government force is killing its own people? This force should act against them and create a sense of peace and stability.”
But neither Kagame nor anyone else has much confidence that will happen. Far from resolving the problem, the UN’s failures are helping to escalate it.
The Congolese government is bringing in Angolan troops as it did during the 1998 to 2002 war with Rwanda, potentially widening the conflict again.
Kagame said he would be concerned if the Angolans were there to push back the CNDP and expose Rwanda’s border to the FDLR. But he said he did not foresee circumstances in which Rwanda would again invade DRC.
“While in the old days we crossed into Congo and dealt with the problem, which I think was very significant, the remnants of the group we were fighting and the magnitude of the problem is smaller and wouldn’t warrant us to cross the border. We will deal with it on our side of the border.”
Born into a Tutsi family in the western Rwanda region of Gitarama in 1957, Paul Kagame fled to Uganda with his relatives when he was three years old amid growing anti-Tutsi violence. Later he joined the National Resistance Army and spent years fighting the so-called “bush wars” as a guerrilla against the Ugandan government of Milton Obote. In 1986 he was one of the key players behind the establishment of the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF), made up mainly of expatriate Rwandan Tutsis. The RPF seized power from the Hutu government in July 1994, helping to bring an end to the genocide in which an estimated 800 000 Rwandans were killed. - guardian.co.uk