/ 4 December 2012

UN: Rwanda, Uganda troops helped DRC rebels take Goma

Neighbouring countries bolstered DRC rebels as they took over Goma
Neighbouring countries bolstered DRC rebels as they took over Goma

A report obtained by Agence France-Presse on Monday showed United Nations experts said Rwanda and Uganda helped rebels in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) stage a major offensive in the east of the country last month.

Hundreds of Rwanda's troops bolstered M23 rebels as they took the key city of Goma, while Uganda provided "logistics" support, said a report by the United Nations (UN) sanctions experts sent to the UN Security Council.

The new investigation by the experts piles more pressure on Rwanda's government over its role in the DRC conflict as it prepares to take up a seat on the Security Council on January 1, diplomats said.

The 15-member council and UN leader Ban Ki-moon have repeatedly condemned external support for the rebels without naming any country.

The experts said their inquiry "strongly upholds" previous accusations that the neighbouring countries provided major backing to the rebels who routed government forces before withdrawing from Goma at the weekend under a ceasefire accord.

Rwanda and Uganda have strongly denied involvement in resource-rich North Kivue province. Neither country immediately commented on the new report into external backing for M23 as it forged out of its stronghold near the DRC border with Rwanda in early November.

More than 40 killed
At the start of the offensive, the DRC army killed more than 40 rebels and Rwandan Defence Force (RDF) soldiers, "many of whom wore RDF uniforms and carried weapons used by the RDF", said the experts.

"When M23 progressed towards Goma on November 19 2012, RDF units operated alongside M23 in combat at the airport and close to one of Goma's border posts into Rwanda," their report added.

Rwandan forces and rebels "together" took Goma, "marching through downtown dressed in a combination of RDF and new M23 uniforms".

The report quoted DRC army commanders and former Rwandan officers as saying that more than 1 000 Rwandan troops joined the M23 campaign and about 500 were inside Goma. They named RDF western Commander General Emmanuel Ruvusha and M23 military chief Sultani Makenga as the joint heads of the campaign.

Uganda deployed troops near the DRC border at the end of October to make sure M23 territory "was not left unprotected during the imminent offensive".

The experts said they witnessed the delivery of hundreds of rain boots to the rebels at the Uganda-DRC border town of Bunagana on October 14.

'Create confusion'
The rebels also acquired camouflaged uniforms similar to those used by Rwandan forces. Former rebels and M23 members told the experts "the aim of using nearly indistinguishable uniforms was to create confusion" when RDF units joined the rebels.

The Security Council has already ordered sanctions against three M23 military commanders including Makenga. Last week the council passed a resolution which threatened action against "those providing external support" to the rebels.

The council called on Ban to provide a report on foreign backing for the rebels and the experts sent their letter as part of this. Rwandan troops have repeatedly intervened in conflict across the border as part of more than a decade of war after 1998 which aid agencies say has caused more than five million deaths.

The UN experts said that a military monitoring mission from International Conference of the Great Lakes Region countries obtained "credible accounts" with photographs of Rwandan and Ugandan military assistance for the rebels when they went to border villages on November 1.

Rwandan officials refused to endorse the findings "and forced the other conference members to weaken the text of the mission report," the experts said. – AFP