A human rights group denounced the ongoing support of Rwanda to the Congolese rebels as violent fighting resumed in the mineral rich region of the Eastern Congo, despite repeated calls from the international community to stop such support. According to Human Rights Watch, since the resumption of fighting on March, at least 44 people have been killed and 61 women and girls raped by the Congolese rebels of M23 (Movement of March 23), the most active rebel faction, supported by Rwanda.
Human Rights Watch has collected depositions from over 100 villagers and former M23 fighters who testified witnessing regular movements of the Rwandan military backing the Congolese between late March and July. Witnesses are former M23 fighters who left the movement between late March and July and civilians living near the Congo-Rwanda border, some of whom were victims of abuses.
“Not only is Rwanda allowing its territory to be used by the abusive M23 to get recruits and equipment, but the Rwandan military is still directly supporting the M23,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa Director of Human Rights Watch, in a report rendered to the Guardian Express. “This support is sustaining an armed group responsible for numerous killings, rapes and other serious abuses.”
According to theses testimonies, men in Rwandan army uniforms and the provision of ammunition, food, and other supplies from Rwanda to the M23 are regularly seen crossing the border toward neighboring Congo. Human Rights Watch says that fighters recruited in Rwanda into the M23 include demobilized Rwandan army soldiers and former Rwandan Hutu fighters of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (known in the French acronym FDLR), most of whom had become part of the Rwandan army’s Reserve Force, as well as Rwandan civilians. FDLR fled the genocide that took place in Rwanda in 1994 and are operating in the Congo. The FDLR, whose leaders are accused for the killing of about 500.000 in Rwanda, are fighting against the Rwandan regime under President Paul Kagame who came to power after the genocide.
A 15-year-old Rwandan boy told Human Rights Watch that he and three other young men and boys were promised jobs as cow herders in the Congo but, when they got there, were forced to join M23. They were given military training by Rwandan officers in the Congo and told they would be killed if they tried to escape. Other M23 deserters also said Rwandan officers were training new M23 recruits. The rebels of M23 were not available for comment, regarding this accusation either when contacted by The Guardian Express.
Fighting resumed last week in the Eastern Congo after three months of relative peace. Both sides, M23 rebels and the Congo government, engaged in talks, and were apparently awaiting the resumption of discussions in Kampala, the capital of neighboring Uganda.
On July 1st, President Barack Obama reiterated his call to all neighbors of Congo to stop their support of the rebels and start working to cooperate and develop their region. “The countries surrounding the Congo, they’ve got to make a commitment to stop funding armed groups that are encroaching on territorial integrity and sovereignty of Congo,” Obama said during a news conference in Tanzania while on his recent Africa tour.
Neighbors of this central African region signed, a few days before Obama’s African tour, a peace agreement to stop any support to rebels in the Congo and the United Nations strengthened its mission in the Congo, giving its peacekeepers in the Congo a mandate to fight the rebels and all armed groups. But neither the agreement nor the new UN mandate has dissuaded the rebels or their supporters from resuming the fighting.
The UN Mission in Congo, the largest and the most budget consuming ever deployed in the world, with about 20,000 soldiers, did not prevent the resumption of fighting even though it is currently putting out on the ground its special units destined to fight armed groups in the Congo.
Rwanda has always denied all support to the Congolese but he has officially withdrawn its troops several times from the Congo.
The Eastern region of the Congo has been the scene of repeated war since 1998 and about 5 million people have been killed, while the same number of women have been raped. Hundreds of thousand people have been displaced; often multiple times. Human Rights Watch also recommended that the Congo’s government prosecute as appropriate Congolese military officers and government officials who have provided support to the FDLR or allied groups.