FORMER REBELS PUT RWANDA UNDER SPOTLIGHT
By Matthew Green
Financial Times (London)
November 11, 2008
Rwanda has sought to portray itself as little more than a bystander to the scenes of advancing rebels forcing refugees to flee that are unfolding again over the border in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
But in interviews with the Financial Times, former rebels and observers on the ground say the uprising -- led by Laurent Nkunda, the renegade former Congolese general -- relies heavily on recruitment in Rwanda and former or even active Rwandan soldiers.
Former rebels point to a close but complex relationship in which Rwanda’s government is able to exert considerable leverage on Mr. Nkunda. Diplomats say Paul Kagame, the Rwandan president, personally intervened to dissuade the rebel commander from over-running Goma when he reached the edge of the city late last month .
Yet, publicly, Mr. Kagame has sought to distance Rwanda from the Congo crisis and international diplomatic efforts to resolve it. At a press conference in Kigali last week he said: “What have I to do with what is going on in the Congo?”
The answer lies partly in the hillside villages and refugee camps in Rwanda that are a vital recruiting ground for Mr. Nkunda’s CNDP movement. Former rebels say that in recent years he has recruited Congolese Tutsi refugees there, as well as Rwandan nationals, many of whom are former soldiers acting as mercenaries. Military experts say Rwandans make up at least a quarter of his 4,000-6,000-strong army.
One Rwandan told the FT he had left his cassava farm in March to join six countrymen in the rebellion. “I was looking for money,” said the former Rwandan army soldier. “There was no payment -- that’s why I left.”
The United Nations mission in Congo says 73 Rwandans, mainly combatants, were repatriated after leaving Mr. Nkunda’s forces last year. A further 76 followed between January and September 10 this year. Human-rights workers say many more are likely to stay in the rebel ranks. Those that have left say would-be deserters are beaten or executed.
Louise Mushikiwabo, the Rwandan information minister, dismissed the testimonies of former CNDP fighters as not “credible” and told the *FT*: “There is zero involvement of Rwanda in CNDP.”
Rwanda says any recruitment on its territory is clandestine and without its support. But human-rights activists say it could try harder to stop recruitment. U.N. officials suspect that the CNDP has a network of financial backers that stretches from Rwanda to South Africa and the U.S.
According to another rebel who recently deserted, units of Rwandan soldiers have fought next to Mr. Nkunda’s forces during the past few years. “There were groups of soldiers from Rwanda who were with us,” he said.
He said his uncle, a Rwandan army officer, continued to receive his salary while fighting with Mr. Nkunda, and that Rwandan troops who wanted to visit home were given border passes by the Rwandan government
Other former fighters have described using razor blades to remove the Rwandan flag from uniforms sent to the rebel forces.
Evidence of more recent Rwandan support surfaced on October 29, when Uruguayan peacekeepers and international journalists reported seeing Rwandan tanks and artillery firing across the border at Congolese troops defending Goma.
Mr. Nkunda’s latest offensive secured a chunk of territory that connects the plateau around his headquarters with a strip of land along the border that might ease infiltration of fighters or weapons from Rwanda.
Mr. Nkunda and Rwanda’s government, military, and business elite share a history from before the 1994 genocide of Rwanda’s Tutsi minority. Mr. Nkunda, a Congolese Tutsi, was an intelligence officer in the guerrilla army that Mr. Kagame, a Rwandan Tutsi, used to stop the massacre and seize power.
Mr. Kagame launched invasions of Congo in 1996 and 1998 and supported uprisings that Rwandan officials maintain were aimed at neutralizing the threat posed by ethnic Hutu fighters who fled following the genocide.
The Congolese government of Joseph Kabila, the president, has periodically adopted the exiled Hutu militias to bolster its weak authority in the east -- putting it at odds with Kigali.
U.N. TO SEND 3,000 MORE TROOPS TO EAST CONGO
by Chris McGreal
November 13, 2008
KIGALI, Rwanda -- The U.N. is poised to send 3,000 more troops to the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, bolstering the world's largest peacekeeping mission as reports emerged of looting and rape by government troops fleeing a rebel advance.
Meanwhile, Angola yesterday said it would respond to a Congolese government request to send its forces to block, and possibly reverse, advances by the Tutsi rebel leader, Laurent Nkunda, in the east. A small number of Angolan troops have already been seen fighting to defend the regional capital, Goma.
Nkunda earlier this week warned that he would attack any foreign troops that entered the conflict. The arrival of Angolan troops is also likely to aggravate neighboring Rwanda, which fought them in the years after its 1998 invasion of Congo.
The U.N. secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, asked the Security Council to approve the extra peacekeepers, amid reports of escalating attacks on civilians. Diplomats said the request was likely to be approved.
About half of the 17,000 peacekeepers in Congo are based in the east, but the U.N. says they are too few to protect civilians.
The spokesman for the U.N. peacekeeping force in Congo, Colonel Jean-Paul Dietrich, said he had received reports of several hundred government troops raping and looting in villages near the town of Kanyabayonga, 60 miles north of Goma.
Ban's call was backed by aid agencies such as Oxfam, which said yesterday there had been a rise in rape, forced labor, and other brutality in eastern Congo.
"In camps across North Kivu, women have been raped while searching for food and firewood, forced into doing humiliating tasks at gunpoint, and children separated from their families are recruited into armed groups," said Oxfam's head in Congo, Juliette Prodhan.
"People have told us their lives no longer have any value. The world needs to show them that is not true, by redoubling efforts to secure a ceasefire and providing immediate additional support to the UN peacekeepers. Hundreds of thousands of people in eastern Congo are not getting the protection they desperately need."
Aid workers are still trying to locate tens of thousands of people who fled the recent fighting or were forced out of refugee camps by Nkunda's rebels.
There was also fighting overnight on the front line between Nkunda's forces and government troops, about five miles north of Goma. The bodies of two Congolese soldiers lay by the roadside near Kibati refugee camp. The continuing conflict prompted the UN's refugee agency, the UNHCR, to say it would move about half of the 9,000 families in the camp.
Nkunda raised the pressure yesterday by announcing that he had formed an alternative administration to govern swaths of eastern Congo under his control.
U.N. DELAYS AGREEING MORE TROOPS FOR CONGO DESPITE RAPES AND LOOTING
By Mike Pflanz
** The United Nations has delayed sending reinforcements for its mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo which are urgently needed to curb violence against civilians. **
November 13, 2008
More than 250,000 people have fled recent fighting and armed groups have been accused of rape, killings, and looting despite the presence of the world's largest peacekeeping operation, with 17,000 troops.
The U.N.'s chief of peacekeeping, Alain Le Roy, on Wednesday requested 3,000 more soldiers for the country's volatile east to boost protection for ordinary Congolese.
But the Security Council failed to agree and instead deferred its decision until it receives another report on November 26.
"We are told that these people have the strength to fight against the rebels and to defeat them," said Jean-Marie Kakuru, 38, by telephone from Kiwanja.
"But they do nothing, they stand aside while our people are being killed."
Dozens of civilians were killed in the town, 50 miles north of Goma, during and after a battle between rebels and a pro-government militia in what the U.N. later said were 'war crimes.'
The organization had a small contingent of 138 armed Indian troops in the town when the fighting broke out, but they withdrew and locked themselves in their base after coming under attack, leaving the local population defenseless.
Further south, in the aid camps around Goma, government soldiers have been accused of raping women, stealing food, and harassing people who arrived there after fleeing fighting.
International organizations are now considering moving thousands of them away from the frontline, which lies close to Kibati village, epicenter of the aid effort and eight miles north of Goma.
U.N. troops backed by attack helicopters yesterday patrolled that frontline, marked by the bodies of two dead government soldiers, in a bid to calm tensions which prompted a brief exchange of gun and mortar fire late on Tuesday.
These actions are too little, too late, Oxfam said.
"People have told us that they feel like they are the living dead and that their lives no longer have any value," said Juliette Prodhan, Congo country director for the charity.
"The world needs to show them that that is not true, by redoubling their efforts to secure a ceasefire and by providing immediate additional support to the U.N. peacekeepers.
"It is clear that hundreds of thousands of people in eastern Congo are not getting the protection they desperately need."
However, Britain's ambassador to the U.N., John Sawers, urged redeployment of existing blue helmets in Congo to put them 'to the best possible use.'
"The Security Council faces many demands for peacekeeping," he said referring to other missions in Somalia, Darfur, and Chad.
"There isn't a bottomless pit of peacekeepers, so we do need to make absolutely sure we're making the best possible use of the troops that already exist in the largest peacekeeping force in the world."
One-minute world news
ILLEGAL MINING FUELS DR CONGO WAR
November 13, 2008
The Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the most volatile parts of the world and also one of the most mineral-rich.
That provides an explosive combination.
The United Nations says illegal mining operations are providing funding for the rebel groups behind the renewed conflict, including the forces of the rebel general Laurent Nkunda.
Many people have died in the latest eruption of violence, and over 250,000 people have fled their homes.
BLESSING OR CURSE
International efforts to bring peace to the region are increasingly focussed on the way that factions in the region have been using its mineral wealth to buy arms.
Workers toil to extract diamonds, gold, copper, and cassiterite in the thousands of open mines which litter the contested eastern region.
The untapped wealth of the forested landscape is worth billions of dollars but only a tiny fraction of that reaches the pockets of ordinary citizens.
The recent battles in the eastern Kivu region partly stem from the same Hutu-Tutsi rivalry which prompted the Rwandan genocide of the 1990s but crucially, the fighting is financed by Kivu's buried treasure.
Many people complain that the natural riches of the region are the main cause of their misery.
Rebel groups, as well as the Congolese army, trade in the minerals and that provides the money to enable them to keep fighting.
For some armed groups the war has become little more than a private racket with the minerals themselves providing the motive for carrying on the fighting, according to Carina Tertsakian of the international campaign organisation Global Witness.
The region accounts for 5% of the global supply of cassiterite, the primary ore of tin and a crucial element of all kinds of electronic circuitry, and is worth $70 million a year.
"To reach the world market the ore is flown to the regional capital of Goma and then, via Rwanda and Uganda, it reaches to east African ports of Mombasa in Kenya and Dar es Salaam in Tanzania," says Harrison Mitchell of the Resource Consulting Service.
The ore is then shipped to smelters who buy tin on the open market.
Located predominantly in India, China, Malaysia, and Thailand, these smelters sell tin to component manufacturers.
Public pressure has forced the diamond trade to monitor sources, and Mr. Mitchell says the same should now apply to the trade in cassiterite.
"We talked to some high profile electronic companies and we found that the final end-users of tin were generally unaware of where the product was coming from," he says.
There are many legal mining operations within the Democratic Republic of Congo but in the contested Eastern region, there are now proposals to limit the illegal trade.
These range from calls for a total ban, to the idea of chemically identifying the varieties of tin coming out of each area, which would allow exporters to filter out the worst sources.
Campaigners say that any indiscriminate ban will severely hurt the long-suffering and impoverished local population.