The Rwandan army has intervened in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo in recent months, both directly and by offering support to armed groups, according to a confidential report by experts tasked with investigating the crisis on behalf of the UN and obtained by the AFP news agency. and Reuters yesterday Thursday.
The Rwandan army has been launching “military operations against Congolese armed groups and DR Congo army positions” since November 2021, according to the report, submitted to the Security Council.
The experts report that Kigali also “provided reinforcements to M23 forces for specific operations, especially when they aimed to capture areas of strategic importance”.
The Rwandan government rejected these “unverified allegations” and invoked its “right to defend its territory”.
“Rwanda has a legitimate and sovereign right to defend its territory and its citizens and not simply wait for a disaster to unfold,” Yolanda Makolo, a government spokeswoman, said in a press release uploaded to Twitter.
The March 23 Movement (M23) is a Tutsi-dominated rebel group that was defeated in 2013 but took up arms again late last year, accusing Kinshasa of failing to honor agreements on disarmament and social reintegration of its fighters. Kinshasa accuses Kigali of supporting M23, which Rwanda denies.
From the end of March, the frequency and intensity of the fighting escalated drastically and the M23 overran the Ruchuru region, reaching a few tens of kilometers north of Goma, the capital of North Kivu province.
The panel’s report refutes Rwandan authorities’ denials and details, citing evidence, that the country was directly involved, “unilaterally or jointly with M23 fighters”, in hostilities in eastern DR Congo.
On 13 June, the strategic town of Bunagana (50 km north of Goma), a commercial crossroads on the border with Uganda, was captured by M23 after fighting.
Footage from MONUSCO UAVs, amateur videos and photographs and eyewitnesses document the presence of the Rwandan army and/or their delivery of equipment to M23 fighters around Bunagana on the eve and day of the attack on the town.
The experts add that “eyewitnesses and investigators reported that there was tolerance, a minima, of the Ugandan army at the border”, as it “allowed M23 fighters to pass” and go to attack Bunagana.
The report clarifies that “repeatedly, aerial photographs showed large convoys of up to 500 armed men, near the borders of DR Congo, Rwanda and Uganda, moving in a highly organized manner and carrying standardized military equipment (uniforms and helmets that resembled items of the Rwandan army)”.
Two weeks before the Bunagana attack, on May 25, the largest Congolese army base in Ruchuru came under heavy fire with mortars and automatic weapons. The group of experts emphasizes that “M23 and the Rwandan armed forces jointly attacked the camp of the DR Congo armed forces in Rumangambo”.
Rwandan forces, between 900 and 1,000 men, “cut for several days the RN2”, a key road to Goma, and “attacked and drove DR Congolese troops from their positions” along it.
However, “militants of armed groups supported by some members of the DR Congo armed forces launched a counterattack on May 26, 2022,” the experts note.
Video taken that day and circulated on social media shows paramilitaries dancing and singing at the camp in Rumangabo after it was recaptured. On 9 June, during their visit to the camp, the experts observed and photographed members of armed groups alongside the DR Congo military.
A casual alliance of armed groups, some of which had previously had hostile relations, was formed in May with the encouragement of DR Congo officers, the report said.
When contacted by the experts, “leaders of armed organizations, fighters and ex-combatants confirmed that they were involved — alone or together with some DRC soldiers — in battles against M23 fighters and/or the Rwandan armed forces” and also confirmed that they were “supplied with arms and ammunition repeatedly by some members of the DR Congo army”.
The report adds that in late May and early June, nearly 300 Rwandan soldiers conducted operations on the territory of the DR Congo against two armed groups dominated by Hutu: the FDLR and the CMC/ FDP (Collectif des mouvements pour le changement/Forces de Défense du Peuple, “Collectif of movements for change/Forces of Defense of the People”).
The Democratic Front for the Liberation of Rwanda (Front démocratique pour la libération du Rwanda, FDLR) is an armed organization founded in the Congo by former officials of the regime that committed the genocide, who have fled. Kigali has cited what it sees as a serious threat posed by its presence and armed action to justify its past incursions into Congolese territory and support for rebels fighting against it.