A group of experts monitoring a United Nations arms embargo on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) reported today that it had found evidence that the Rwandan authorities and the Congolese army have aided opposing rebel groups in the war-ravaged east of the country.
In its final report to the Security Council the Group of Experts, set up in 2004, said that while there is little documentation available to prove Rwandan material support to the rebel National Congress in Defence of the People (CNDP), it had found evidence that Rwandan authorities have been complicit in recruiting soldiers, including children, facilitated the supply of military equipment, and sent their own officers and units to the DRC to support the CNDP.
It based its research on dozens of interviews with eyewitnesses, including former combatants and officers of the mainly Tutsi CNDP, members of the business community, regional intelligence officials and local eyewitnesses, all of them “consistent and credible in describing the involvement” of the Government of Rwanda.
“Given the nature, however, of the conflict in eastern Congo, much of the financial and military support is informal and does not leave a paper trail,” the Group''s Coordinator Jason Stearns told a later news conference.
The Group recommended that the Security Council Sanctions Committee “remind the Government of Rwanda of its obligations” under which it pledged last year to prevent any support to CNDP, entry into and exit from its territory of CNDP members, use of Rwandan telephone networks and banking systems, and holding fund-raising meetings in Rwanda.
With regard to the DRC authorities the Group said it had obtained strong evidence that the Government army, known by its French acronym FARDC, collaborated with the mainly Hutu Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), including through the provision of military equipment and in joint operations against CNDP.
FDLR collaborated extensively with FARDC during the December 2007 clashes with CNDP in Masisi and Rutshuru territories and has continued to collaborate with FARDC during fighting that began this August, it added.
An upsurge of fighting since August between the two rebel movements, the army, and various other militias in North Kivu province in eastern DRC has driven 250,000 more civilians from their homes, in addition to the hundreds of thousands uprooted in earlier clashes.
The Group interviewed over 30 FDLR ex-combatants, of whom 15 provided first-hand, concrete testimony of FARDC-FDLR collaboration. It also interviewed several former and active FARDC soldiers who corroborated this information.
“The Group has identified at least three Congolese army commanders who are guilty of providing support to the FDLR,” Mr. Stearns said. “While this collaboration is widespread and regular, the Group has not been able to prove to what extent the top leadership of the army is involved in this practise but it''s cleat that they know and have done nothing to bring it to an end.”
The Group has put forward several FARDC commanders for sanctions for supporting FDLR and another group called PARECO, and recommended that the Sanctions Committee request the DRC authorities “to issue clear directives to its troops that collaboration and cohabitation with FDLR and PARECO are prohibited.” Appropriate disciplinary measures should be taken against FARDC soldiers collaborating with these armed groups.
The report noted that the FDLR obtains millions of dollars a year from the minerals trade, mostly through taxation of mines and traders, and that many traders are complicit since they know the gold, cassiterite, coltran and wolframite come from FDLR-controlled zones.
“We believe that the burden should be on the Congolese buying houses as well as on international mineral traders to conduct due diligence into the source of the product,” Mr. Stearns said of one of the planks in enforcing the embargo.
The Group also pointed out that CNDP and FDLR leaders reside or travel through countries in Africa, Europe and North America where they rally support and funds. “The Group believes that such political support is essential for their fund-raising and constitutes a violation of the arms embargo,” Mr. Stearns said.