DR Congo's M23 rebels: Rwandan support 'falling'

M23 rebels walking through hills in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (30 November 2012) M23 fighters launched a rebellion last May, forcing 800,000 from their homes

Rwanda is now only providing "limited" support to Congolese M23 rebels and Uganda none at all, a leaked report by a group of UN experts says.

Both countries had denied allegations in an earlier UN report that they were arming the rebels in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo.

The report, leaked by Inner City Press which follows UN affairs, said the M23 financed itself by taxing trucks.

The M23 told the BBC it wanted an apology for the UN's previous "lies".

Rene Abandi, the group's foreign affairs spokesman, told the BBC Swahili Service that the group did not receive support from either Rwanda or Uganda and the authors of the previous UN group of experts' report should apologise.

Start Quote

After Ntaganda's defeat, Makenga remained with a weakened M23 of some 1,500 soldiers spread out over an area of 700sq km”

End Quote Leaked UN report

The accusation in the previous UN report that Rwanda was backing the M23 led several donors, including the UK and the US, to cut aid to Kigali.

Paddy Ankunda, a Ugandan army spokesman, told the BBC the leaked report, dated 20 June 2013, was nothing new as it confirmed the truth of what Uganda had been saying all along.

The wide-ranging document details the findings of the group of experts' trips to DR Congo between February and May 2013; and their visits to Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi.

It describes the infighting within the M23, which resulted in the surrender of one of its top leaders Bosco Ntaganda, who is now facing trial at the International Criminal Court, and the death of more than 200 combatants.

It also investigates the M23's recruitment, its revenue and details the many other rebel groups in eastern DR Congo and attempts to clamp down on illegal mining.

'Gold and ivory swapped for arms'

Who are the M23 rebels?

  • Named after the 23 March 2009 peace accord which they accuse the government of violating
  • This deal saw them join the army before they took up arms once more in April 2012
  • Also known as the Congolese Revolutionary Army
  • Mostly from minority Tutsi ethnic group
  • Deny being backed by Rwanda and Uganda
  • The UN and US imposed a travel ban and asset freeze in December 2012 on the group's leader, Sultani Makenga
  • Hit by heavy infighting in February 2013
  • Top commander Bosco Ntaganda surrendered to International Criminal Court in March 2013

The M23 rebels, who like Rwanda's leaders are mainly from the Tutsi ethnic group, mutinied and deserted from the Congolese army in April 2012, forcing an estimated 800,000 people from their homes in the ensuing unrest in the mineral-rich region.

"Since the outset of its current mandate, the group has to date found no indication of support to the rebels from within Uganda, and has gathered evidence of continuous - but limited - support to M23 from within Rwanda," the report says.

But the UN experts said that Uganda needed to do more to combat gold smuggling and restructure its gold trade sector.

"Despite numerous testimonies from gold dealers, local officials, and civil society representatives in Ituri and North Kivu that virtually all gold produced in these areas is exported to and traded in Kampala, the government of Uganda told the group it officially exported only 286kg [630lb] of gold during 2012," the report said.

The report detailed how a businessmen, who now resides in Uganda, gave a rebel group arms and ammunition in exchange for gold and ivory - poaching is taking place in many areas across eastern DR Congo.

"The origin of the seized ivory is unclear, but former poachers, ex-combatants, and local leaders in eastern DRC have told the group that Uganda is the most common transit country or destination for poached ivory from northeast DRC," it said.

The M23 says its main source of revenue is the taxes it collects from commercial trucks - between $200 (£133) and $1,000 per vehicle - crossing at its checkpoints in Kibumba and Kiwanja, and the Bunagana border crossing into Uganda.

"According to M23 members, the movement earns an average of $6,000 per day from this taxation," the report said.

It explained how Rwandan officials helped dismantle Gen Ntaganda's M23 support network and how some Rwandan officers provided some material support to his rival, Sultani Makenga.

Map

"After Ntaganda's defeat, Makenga remained with a weakened M23 of some 1,500 soldiers spread out over an area of 700sq km [270 sq miles]," it said.

Col Makenga then went on a recruitment drive and has been able to recruit fighters in Rwanda, including demobilised soldiers, although "Ugandan officials have thwarted several M23 attempts to recruit on their territory", the report said.

The rebels also held military training sessions in April and May, it said.

The experts said they had interviewed some former M23 soldiers who said that despite fresh negotiations between Kinshasa and the rebels, which began again in Kampala in June, Col Makenga planned a new attack on Goma.

The UN experts said they had also requested clarification from the DR Congo government about reports that the national army, in its fight against the M23, had collaborated and supplied arms to the FDLR, a Hutu militia group established by those accused of taking part in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

But the report noted that the FDLR had "continued to weaken during the first half of 2013" with an estimated 1,500 soldiers, the majority based in North Kivu.

The recruitment of under-age fighters remains a concern and the experts said that "between January and May 2013, armed groups in eastern DRC have recruited at least 200 children".

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