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UN says Rwanda and Uganda backed rebel takeover of Goma

African neighbour provides military support and weapons to M23 insurgents, UN report says

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 23 November, 2012, 2:56am
 

The Rwandan military is commanding and supporting the rebel force that overtook a provincial capital in eastern Congo earlier this week, a United Nations report said.

Uganda is also providing more subtle, but nonetheless decisive backing to the M23 rebels, the report added.

The report, issued soon after the violent takeover of Goma on Tuesday, is sure to increase pressure on the international community to confront the two eastern African countries over their role in neighbouring Congo's conflict. Both Rwanda and Uganda have repeatedly denied supporting the M23 movement and have faced little international criticism over the allegations.

The report from the UN Group of Experts said both Rwanda and Uganda had "co-operated to support the creation and expansion of the political branch of M23 and have consistently advocated on behalf of the rebels. M23 and its allies include six sanctioned individuals, some of whom reside in or regularly travel to Rwanda and Uganda".

The document said Rwanda was funnelling weapons, providing troop reinforcements to the M23 rebels, facilitating recruitment and encouraging desertions from the Congolese armed forces. The de facto chain of command of M23 ends with Rwandan Defence Minister General James Kabarebe, the report said.

M23 was "a Rwandan creation", said Steven Hege, a member of the Group of Experts. He said Rwandan soldiers and commanders embedded with M23 take orders from Rwanda.

Rwanda was elected by the UN General Assembly to serve a two-year position on the 15-member Security Council beginning in January, which will complicate efforts by the council to come to grips with the country's intervention in Congo.

The Security Council voted unanimously on Tuesday to impose travel bans, freeze assets and use other sanctions on the leaders of M23 and called for an end to external support for the rebellion, but without naming Rwanda or Uganda.

Rwanda's representative spoke to the council after the vote to deny that his country is involved in the Congolese rebellion. Uganda has previously denied involvement.

Timothy Longman, director of Boston University's African Studies Centre, said the US and other countries had been reluctant to confront Rwanda out of lingering sympathy for its 1994 genocide and because the country was considered a successful model for development. He said Rwanda had become a key international player under President Paul Kagame, including supplying troops for the African Union mission in Darfur.

"The international community needs to stop pretending like Kagame is a benign leader and realise that the green light given to his unacceptable behaviour in the past is allowing him to get away with literally murder," said Longman, a former director of the Human Rights Watch office in Rwanda.

Earlier on Wednesday, the UN's special representative for Congo, Roger Meece, said the 19,000-strong UN peacekeeping force was being stretched thin by multiple rebel militias in the eastern part of the country, including Goma.

Last weekend, UN helicopters fired hundreds of rockets at the rebels in a bid to slow their advance on Goma, a city of one million. But the UN force commander in Goma ordered the peacekeepers not to shoot on Tuesday to avoid provoking a major firefight in the city after Congolese troops retreated.

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