UNITED NATIONS—A final report from an independent United Nations body asserts Rwanda continues to back a rebel army in eastern Congo despite international condemnation of its alleged involvement in the conflict, as Rwanda steps up its rebuttal of the findings.
The report, which will be delivered to the U.N.’s sanctions committee Oct. 12, says Rwanda hasn’t lessened its training and recruiting of troops for the rebel group, called M23, nor ceased providing arms and logistical aid, in violation of sanctions prohibiting such support, according to Rwandan government officials who have reviewed it,
M23, which the report estimates currently has about 1,250 soldiers who deserted Congo’s national army, continues to make territorial gains, the report says according to the officials.
The Rwandan government denounced the findings in the final report, calling them groundless and based on rumor. It will deliver to the sanctions committee Friday a scathing analysis of the procedures behind the report from a Washington law firm, Akin Gump, charging the U.N. body that compiled it with bias and not giving the government proper opportunity to respond to the allegations.
The M23 rebellion, which began in April, has led to hundreds of deaths in the volatile, mineral-rich area near the shared border between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo and displaced hundreds of thousands, according to humanitarian groups.
Rwanda’s alleged involvement has also heightened concerns the fragile peace between the two countries in place since 2009 could be broken. The two nations have been at war on and off since the mid-1990s, primarily in two provinces in eastern Congo called the Kivus.
The allegations, which prompted a handful of countries to suspend or delay aid totaling more than $90 million to Rwanda after they first came to light in June, come just as the country is expected to be elected as a nonpermanent member of the U.N.’s powerful Security Council, for a two-year term beginning in 2013. The U.N.’s General Assembly is scheduled to vote on the matter next week.
A Rwandan government official who reviewed the final report said the Group of Experts, the team commissioned by the U.N. to investigate the matter in Congo, “has adopted a kitchen-sink strategy, collating every available piece of rumor and hearsay evidence hoping that the sheer volume of accusation would make up for a complete absence of material evidence to prove their case.”
In a late-September interview in New York, Rwandan President Paul Kagame said,”We’re talking about a Congo problem, but everyone wants to blame us.”
In its review to be delivered to the U.N. sanctions committee Friday, Akin Gump, the law firm hired by the Rwandan government, takes direct aim at the authors of the U.N. independent report, primarily its coordinator Steve Hege, calling him biased against Rwanda and therefore “unfit to continue in his current position.”
It also says the group didn’t provide Rwandan officials with sufficient opportunity to address the findings before they were submitted to the U.N., in several updates in recent months as well as the final report to be delivered Friday, nor did it include what the government did submit.
Mr. Hege declined to comment, citing U.N. policy. An earlier addendum from the Group of Experts said, “The Group has made extensive efforts to engage with the Rwandan government regarding its findings, with some limited success.” It added that during an official visit in mid-May by the group to Kigali, the Rwandan capital, the government “didn’t receive them in any substantive meetings to discuss these issues.”
At a meeting earlier this week in Kampala, Uganda of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, regional heads of state agreed to move forward with a plan to deploy a neutral force of 4,000 troops, under the auspices of the U.N. and African Union, to combat the rebel group in eastern Congo.
By Christopher Rhoads