/ 25 November 2009

UN: Rwandan militia has global support network

Military operations have failed to contain Rwandan-Hutu rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and international action is needed to restrict their financing, said a new report by United Nations experts.

In a major report for the UN Security Council, unpublished but seen by Agence France-Presse, researchers said Congolese, Rwandan and UN forces have tried to disarm the FDLR rebels, who still pose a potent threat to regional stability, but have failed to impose order in a region still wracked by faction fighting.

”This report concludes that military operations against the FDLR have failed to dismantle the organisation’s political and military structures on the ground in eastern DRC,” the detailed 93-page document begins.

The report also alleges that the FDLR is managing to recruit fighters using profits from a corrupt international trade in minerals.

The militia sprang up in camps in the east of the DRC housing mainly ethnic Hutu refugees who fled Rwanda after their leaders launched the 1994 genocide, which left about 800 000 people dead.

The campaign has been undermined by corruption and brutality within the official Congolese armed forces and by the FDLR’s ability to fund its campaigns through the international mineral trade, the report says.

Companies are buying minerals from jungle mines controlled and operated by Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) cadres, while middlemen are smuggling millions of dollars in gold to Dubai every year.

The document was researched on the ground in the DRC and the region over six months by a five-strong stream of experts hired by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in order to prepare a report for Security Council members.

It calls on international governments to step up measures to stifle the FDLR support network, which includes members of the Rwandan diaspora based in Europe and North America and foreign sympathisers in Catholic charities.

The experts also warn that since March an offensive against the militia by Congolese forces, some of whose officers have supplied weapons to the rebels, has made life even worse for the beleaguered civilian population.

”Scores of villages have been raided and pillaged, thousands of houses have been burnt and several hundred thousand people have been displaced in order to escape from the violence generated by these military operations,” it says.

Official Congolese records show only a few kilos of gold exported legally every year, but the country’s own senate estimates that in reality 40 tonnes a year — worth $1,24-billion — gets out.

The UN report details how both the anti-Rwandan government FDLR and their enemies in pro-Kigali militias use the same ethnic Indian middlemen to smuggle gold to souks in the United Arab Emirates.

It also says the FDLR profits from the export of cassiterite.

‘Regular financial support’
In September, British group AMC said it would stop buying Congolese cassiterite, insisting the trade was legal but complaining of ”negative campaigning from advocacy groups and adverse coverage”.

The UN experts also ”collected information on individuals affiliated with the Catholic Church and other religious and charitable organisations … who provide financial and material support to the FDLR.”

This is said to include ”regular financial, logistical and political support from individuals” linked to two Spanish organisations, including the Fundacio S’Olivar, which is funded by the government of the Balearic Islands.

The islands’ regional parliament issued a statement defending the Fundacio, denying that it supports armed groups and insisting that it works ”in defence of peace, justice and solidarity, always applying pacifist principles.”

Meanwhile, FDLR leaders command their troops from the safety of Europe.

”Some of these supporters and leaders are suspected participants in the 1994 Rwandan genocide,” the report says, going on to detail telephone traffic and cash transfers between exiled Rwandan politicians and militia warlords.

The experts tracked down 240 calls between German-based FDLR leader Ignance Murwanashyaka and militia commanders in DRC, while these commanders were in turn in touch with contacts in 25 countries in Europe and America.

The report was addressed to the chairperson of the UN Security Council committee on September 9. It is not known when it will be published. — AFP