Rwanda has dismissed allegations that its army supported the M23 rebels in attacking the Democratic Republic of Congo; allegations contained in a report by the UN Group of Experts that is yet to be made public.
The claims in the unpublished report leaked to international media also accuse the Congolese army of providing support for armed groups in the eastern DRC.
“Rwanda cannot comment on an unpublished and unvalidated report,” said Rwanda’s Office of the Government Spokesperson.
“The UN Security Council received a UN Group of Experts report on DRC in June 2022, which contained none of the false allegations, and a mid-term report is expected in December.”
“This can only be a tactic to distract from the real issues,” said the statement released on Thursday.
News about the 131-page report and its contents, which have not been made public by the UN, has been circulating in the media since August 4. The report accuses Rwanda of providing “troop reinforcements” for specific M23 operations.
It says M23 fighters and Rwandan troops “jointly attacked” the Rumangabo area in eastern North Kivu Province after Rwandan troops had crossed into the DRC the day before.
The report adds that some 300 Rwandan troops also conducted operations against rebel groups in eastern DRC, such as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a militia rebel group viewed by Rwanda as a threat.
The findings follow months of tensions between the DRC and Rwanda over the rebel activities, with Kinshasa repeatedly accusing Rwanda of backing the militia. Rwanda has denied the accusations and counter-accused DRC of backing the FDLR.
“Until the problem of FDRL, which operates in close collaboration with the DRC army, is taken seriously and addressed, security in the Great Lakes Region cannot be achieved. This is happening in full view of Monusco, which has been present in DRC for more than 20 years, but with no solution in sight,” the Rwanda Government’s Spokesperson said.
In June, Rwanda pleaded with the UN saying it is extremely concerned by the military cooperation between FARDC and FDLR, and urged the UN through Monusco to not stand by and watch this alliance.
The DRC has since asked Monusco spokesperson Mathias Gillmann, to leave the country, blaming him for stoking tensions that led to deadly protests last week. A week before, 36 people, including four UN peacekeepers, were killed as hundreds of protesters vandalised and set fire to the mission’s buildings in several cities in the country’s east.
Regional efforts to calm tensions between Rwanda and DRC have been futile despite talks and mediation meetings. US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken is expected to travel to both countries on August 9-12 to help calm tensions.
In Kinshasa, Congolese Government Spokesman Patrick Muyaya termed the leaked UN report ”a diplomatic victory” for DRC.
“We have been saying this for several months, and many people turned a deaf ear,” said Mr Muyaya. “We would have liked this report to be published earlier; we would have avoided deaths.”
The report seen by AFP claims that Rwandan troops have attacked soldiers inside DR Congo and aided the M23 rebel group and that Rwanda also “provided troop reinforcements” for specific M23 operations, “in particular when these aimed at seizing strategic towns and areas.”
The M23 is a primarily Congolese Tutsi group. It first leapt to prominence in 2012 when it briefly captured the eastern DRC city of Goma before a joint Congolese-UN offensive drove it out.
After lying mostly dormant for years, the rebel group resumed fighting late last year.
It has made significant advances, notably capturing the strategic town of Bunagana on the Ugandan border in June.
On May 25, the report said, a large DRC army base in Rumangabo in eastern North Kivu Province came under heavy mortar and small-arms fire. M23 fighters and Rwandan troops “jointly attacked” the site after Rwandan troops had crossed into the DRC the day before, it alleged.
An estimated 1,000 Rwandan troops also cut the main highway leading to the provincial capital Goma, an important commercial hub on the Rwandan border, and attacked Congolese positions, it said.
On the eve of the attack on Bunagana, and on the day itself, Rwandan soldiers were in the vicinity, the report said, citing drone images from the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC, eyewitnesses, amateur videos and photos.
It added that Ugandan troops at the border acquiesced to M23 fighters crossing into the DRC.
“On repeated occasions, aerial imagery showed large columns of up to 500 armed men in the vicinity of the DRC, Rwandan and Ugandan borders, moving in a very organised manner,” the report said.
The columns of soldiers wore “standardised military attire” that bore a close resemblance to Rwandan army uniforms, the report added.
Some 300 Rwandan troops also conducted operations against rebel groups in eastern DRC, such as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).
The FDLR is a Rwandan Hutu rebel group based in the DRC. Kigali has regularly accused Congo of supporting the militia.
The UN report also found that the Congolese army supported militias active in the east of the country.
On May 26, after being dislodged from positions near the Goma highway, the Congolese army launched a counterattack alongside militia fighters, for example.
A coalition of armed groups had formed in May, with the knowledge of Congolese officers, the report said.
Leaders of several militias confirmed to the experts that the Congolese army had provided them with weapons and munitions “on several occasions,” it added.
The DRC and Rwanda have had strained relations since the mass influx of Rwandan Hutus accused of slaughtering Tutsis during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
Relations began to thaw after DRC President Felix Tshisekedi took office in 2019 but the M23’s resurgence reignited tensions.
The report comes after 36 people died in eastern Congo last week during protests against the UN’s peacekeeping force, which were fuelled by perceptions that it is ineffectual against armed groups.
A poll by New York University’s Congo Research Group and Congolese research institute Ebuteli, published Thursday, found that 44 percent of Congolese people interviewed thought peacekeepers should leave the country.