Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Africa: 'Haze of Silence Over Rwandan Involvement in DRC' - Highlights of the Mid-Term Report of the UN Group of Experts

Kris Berwouts
All Africa

berwouts.JPGThe Mid-Term Report of the sometimes controversial UN Group of Experts focuses on the major events of the conflict in eastern Congo since the beginning of the year.

Predictably, one of the main subjects is the fighting within M23 between Sultani Makenga and Bosco Ntaganda's factions. Tensions already existed in 2012 and came to the surface after M23 dramatically took Goma. Under international pressure Makenga wanted to leave town, while Ntaganda preferred to remain in the provincial capital. When they finally withdrew on December 1st 2012, Ntaganda and Makenga clashed over the division of the goods looted from the city. The leadership crisis also crystallized in the same period around appointments: both leaders wanted to place their officers and cadres in key positions within the movement.

The report describes how fighting broke out between the two factions on February 28th 2013. Two weeks later, Makenga defeated his adversary and on March 15th Ntaganda crossed the border into Rwanda using a small path in the Gasizi area. According to different sources interviewed by the Expert Panel, Bosco was brought to Kigali with the help of his family. He arrived at the United States embassy on March 18th where he requested to be transferred to the ICC. This entire operation took place, according to the report, without the prior knowledge of Rwandan authorities.

The report refers several times (without giving any details) to the role Rwanda played in the internal struggle. On the one hand, Makenga was supported by demobilized Rwandan soldiers from Rwanda. At the same time, Rwandan officials dismantled Ntaganda's network of support and recruitment in Rwanda. Three interviewees confirmed that groups of demobilized Rwandan soldiers had infiltrated into the DRC during the two weeks of fighting to assist Makenga.

After the confrontations had ended (the Group of Experts estimates that over 200 combatants from both factions died during the fighting), M23 has continued to recruit in Rwanda and to enlist demobilized Rwandan soldiers. Some Rwanda Defense Force (RDF) officers have also held meetings with M23 commanders and impeded the voluntary repatriation of M23 combatants to Rwanda.

After Ntaganda had left eastern Congo, Makenga took complete control over a weakened M23 of some 1,500 soldiers and an area of 700 square kilometers. In the three months following Bosco's surrender, a total of 349 M23 combatants surrendered to Monusco. Many others surrendered to the FARDC or fled. Makenga tried to build up M23's force by recruiting new people in Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda. The recruitment in Rwanda was successful to some extent through the help from some sympathetic Rwandan officials. Ugandan officials have prevented M23 of recruiting on their territory.

It is particularly remarkable how the experts at several occasions highlight how help from Rwanda was decisive in the M23 infighting (reinforcing Makenga and dismantling the support that apparently existed around Ntaganda) without clarifying or even suggesting that this was the result of a decision taken by the Rwandan authorities. Things seem to happen because demobilized soldiers, sympathetic officials etc. get involved in the Congo crisis, but neither the Rwandan government nor the Rwandan army appear in the report as a relevant autonomous player in the events.

For people who observe the way the Rwandan state establishes its control mechanisms and people who know the vital interest of eastern Congo for the country, it is extremely unlikely that Rwandan involvement of this size is not the result of permanent strategic planning and thorough implementation of a clearly defined policy by the Rwandan government. It would be highly doubtful that anyone in the Rwandan government or in the military would be able to fraternize with a rebel group in DRC without the knowledge of the highest ranks in the country.

The resurrection of FDLR?
The FDLR had lost a lot of its former power since the military campaigns following Umoja Wetu in 2009. They continued to weaken in 2012. The Mid-Term Report of the Group of Experts describes how FDLR suffered from internal divisions and a weak hierarchy that lacks the capability to command and control the organization's entire operations. The movement's leadership is divided between hardliners such as Sylvestre Mudacumura who wanted to continue the armed struggle, and moderates belonging to younger generations, who favour demobilization and reintegration. The FDLR is also weakened by the emergence of other armed groups: the rise of Raia Mutomboki and its attacks against the FDLR forced the latter to redeploy towards the east of North Kivu, and towards the south of South Kivu. As a result, there is a gap of 400 kilometers between the northern and southern FDLR sectors, and hardly any movement of troops between the two sectors.

The report also gives some interesting details on three FDLR attacks on Rwandan soil in late 2012. On November 27th, theFDLR took advantage of M23's movement toward Goma, which left its western flank exposed. About 160 FDLR soldiers crossed into Rwandan territory through Gasizi and targeted RDF positions at Kabuhanga and Muti in Rubavu district. On December 2nd, about 80 FDLR soldiers infiltrated into Rwanda near Mount Visoke and attacked the RDF position nearby Kinigi, killing one park ranger. FDLR officers told the Group that the objective of these attacks was to show the FDLR was not a dying force and spokesperson La Forge Fils Bayeze publicly claimed that the FDLR was responsible for these attacks.

The attacks were supposed to be a sign of the FDLR's strength, but the movement continued to weaken in the first months of 2013. The Group of Experts estimates that the FDLR's present force to be approximately 1,500 soldiers - the majority of whom are deployed in North Kivu and the remainder in South Kivu. In 2012, Monusco repatriated 1,441 foreign FDLR combatants, and demobilized 398 FDLR Congolese combatants. The report mentions that there is no evidence that the FDLR receives significant financial or other support from abroad.

The Group has documented local-level collaboration between the FARDC and the FDLR. Faced with the rapidly evolving M23 rebellion in 2012, the FARDC first abided by a tacit non-aggression agreement with the FDLR. However, the declining security situation in eastern DRC, culminating in the fall of Goma on 20 November 2013, enhanced the collaboration between some FARDC units and the FDLR in areas of close proximity within M23-controlled territory. The Group has documented local-level collaboration between the FARDC and the FDLR (e.g. precise places and moments where FARDC and FDLR met and exchanged operational information, concrete cases of ammunition supplies), and continues to investigate the extent to which the FARDC hierarchy may be involved in such collaboration.

Kata Katanga
The report also gives an interesting summary of the situation in Katanga. Kata Katanga (a Swahili phrase meaning "cut off Katanga") is a loosely structured armed group that brings together individuals and groups advocating for the secession of Katanga Province from the DRC. The most significant armed group leader is Kyungu Mutanga, aka Gédéon, who operates in the areas of Manono, Mitwaba and Pweto. Kata Katanga is linked to debates over Katanga's future political status.

While Kata Katanga represents the radical wing of a long-standing movement campaigning for Katanga to become an independent state, other political interests favour decentralization (dividing Katanga into four provinces), or federalism (leaving Katanga intact as a province of the DRC but giving it greater autonomy). Politicians in southern Katanga, where most of the province's vast mineral wealth is concentrated, generally support decentralization, but politicians in northern Katanga, which is poor by comparison, generally oppose such a move and favour Katanga remaining intact as a province or an independent country.

Kata Katanga states that its principal objective is to fight for the independence of Katanga. Its leaders told the Group that they have troops in Kamina, Manono, Mitwaba, Kalemie, Pweto, and Bendera, as well as in Lubumbashi. The group claims to be recruiting new members and providing them with military training. The group also claims to have links with Katangan political leaders at the national, provincial, and local levels; sympathizers within the FARDC and the PNC; and Katangan diaspora in Europe and North America.

During late 2012 and early 2013, armed activities in Katanga resulted in serious human rights violations and breaches of international humanitarian law. The perpetrators of these violations are both armed groups, some of which are aligned with Kata Katanga, and the FARDC, which has been conducting operations against Kata Katanga. Violence in Katanga has been characterized by massacres, summary executions, ethnically targeted attacks, and burning of people, homes, and property. This violence has led to an increase in internally displaced persons, which number approximately 365,000 as of June 2013. Most of these displacements are in the area between Manono, Mitwaba, and Pweto, with the latter recording the highest number of the IDPs (159,000). In total, 10 out of the 22 territories of the province are affected.

There have been numerous clashes between FARDC and Kata Katanga during April and May 2013, but Kata Katanga has also battled newly formed self-defense groups in central and northern Katanga. These self-defense groups fight Kata Katanga in order to control mining sites, such as the gold mine at Ntoya and to protect communities that oppose Kata Katanga's objectives.

Child soldiers
The Group of Experts also documented cases of recruitment of children in Katanga, North Kivu, Orientale, and South Kivu provinces and concludes that armed groups have recruited at least 200 children in the east of Congo between January and May 2013. Monusco recorded, in the first four months of 2013, 183 cases of child recruitment, including 36 girls. Most of them served in North Kivu (82), with the rest split between South Kivu (28), Katanga (38), and Orientale (35). In the same period, 641 cases of children (of which 109 girls) escaping from various armed groups were registered. Also in this group, most children came from North Kivu (314). Others originated from Katanga (79) Orientale (157), South Kivu (78), Rwanda (11), Central African Republic (1), and Sudan (1).

The report goes in to some detail when describing the level of the use each party in the armed conflict makes of child soldiers. Between January and April 2013, Monusco identified 33 boys who deserted from M23, aged between 15 and 17. 11 of them had been recruited in Rwanda. Deserters interviewed by the Group confirmed that there are undocumented cases of child soldier desertion in M23: some children had escaped and returned directly to their families without surrendering to authorities.

The Group also documented FDLR attempts to recruit children among the Rwandan refugee population in DRC, and among Congolese Hutu populations, but these attempts had limited success. Monusco and Unicef separated 45 children from the group of 242 Kata Katanga members who sought refuge at the Monusco base following their protest march through Lubumbashi on March 23rd. Raia Mutomboki remains the most geographically widespread armed group in North and South Kivu, with a high rate of recruitment and use of children. The Group estimates that 25-30 percent of RM combatants are children.

The Group also investigated cases involving the illegal detention and use of children for military purposes by the FARDC. In April, Unicef separated 19 children from the FARDC 812th Regiment located at Camp Bobozo in Kananga, in Kasai Occidental province. The Regiment had rotated from North Kivu to Kananga in March, and had forcefully recruited the children before their departure from North Kivu.

The failure of army reform
Put under pressure by M23, the Congolese armed forces accelerated in the second half of 2012 its attempts to integrate armed groups opposing M23 in to their own ranks. These attempts continued in 2013, integration exercises continued, with mixed results. The report addresses two examples of the consequences of Congo's indisciplined and inefficient army. From 20 to 30 November 2012, FARDC soldiers committed mass rapes in Minova (South Kivu) and the surrounding villages. A joint investigation by Monusco and OHCHRR documented at least 135 cases of rape, including of minors, and other acts of sexual violence perpetrated in a systematic manner and with extreme violence by FARDC soldiers. To date, the government's investigation is continuing.

In January 2013, attempts were made to integrate General Janvier Buigo's Alliance pour un Congo libre et souverain (APCLS), a predominantly Hunde armed group, into the FARDC's 8th Military Region, but steps were not taken to materialize this integration into the local unit. That eventually lead to a very tense situation that got totally out of hand at the end of February when the commander of the 812th FARDC regiment Colonel Mudahunga, who was close to some M23 officers, started to distributed arms to Rwandophone youth and cattle herders in Kitchanga and in the nearby Kahe IDP camp, and incited them to attack ethnic Hundes. This led to open fighting between FARDC and ACPLS at the end of February and early March. The Group of Experts estimates there were at least 90 people killed and more than 500 houses burnt. The report quotes Médecins sans Frontières, which counted more than 140 people injured, and hundreds of houses and key infrastructure destroyed, including part of the hospital. According to OCHA, the fighting temporarily displaced about 100,000 people.

The Group of Experts formulates a series of recommendations of which none is new or particularly surprising. The Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 1533 (2004) concerning the DRC is urged to renew its commitment to consider recommendations of the Group of Experts proposing the designation of specific individuals and entities for targeted sanctions. The eleven signatories of the Framework Agreement are asked to respect the accord's obligations, in particular the commitment of the Congolese Government to continue and deepen security sector reform with respect to the Army and Police; Member States of the region are recommended to refrain from harboring sanctioned individuals or providing protection of any kind to persons falling under the sanctions regime.

Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda (which together form the Economic Community of the Great Lakes Region) are invited to revive the extradition provisions of their tripartite convention. All countries of the region are asked to promote regional integration through the development of mutually benefiting infrastructure, and to guide and monitor private initiatives in this regard in a transparent manner, with a view to safeguarding the interests of all parties.

The DRC and Rwanda are asked to clarify the status of M23 combatants who surrendered to Monusco and who declare that they are Rwandan nationals. The Congolese Government is asked to expand validation missions to mining sites where such missions have not taken place to date, as soon as the security situation allows and to investigate and prosecute all military personnel involved in the trade of natural resources, as well as individuals and entities supporting these criminal networks within the Congolese armed forces. Another recommendation to the DRC government is to appoint a "Special Envoy" to be in charge of negotiations with specific rebel groups, to facilitate demobilisation and possible integration in the FARDC. A strong recommendation focuses on the army: the government is asked to cease its in situ integration of armed groups in the FARDC without proper vetting.

The Group of Experts ask the Rwandan government to submit a list of the remaining former M23 combatants who crossed into Rwanda during 2013 and to investigate and prosecute individuals supporting M23 activities on its territory. The last recommendations are addressed to the Ugandan government, which is asked to demonstrate a renewed commitment to restructuring its gold trade sector and combat gold smuggling, and inform the Committee regarding progress achieved.

The UN Group of Experts on the DRC remains an important tool of the international community to shed light on what really happens on the ground in eastern Congo and to provide the necessary information to define its actions, although throughout the years an awful lot of recommendations of the group of experts have not been followed up. This particular generation of researchers is not one of the most notorious since the Group's conception.

The Mid-Term Report of June 20th contains a lot of interesting facts but not much that will be new for people who follow the events in the Congo closely. Throughout the years, the Group has been accused of being biased against the Rwandan regime and within the present team two people have been refused a Rwandan visa. Maybe we should see the haze of silence over the involvement of the Rwandan regime in eastern Congo - despite the omnipresence of its officials, officers, demobilized soldiers etc - as some form of self-censorship to avoid further accusations of this type.

Kris Berwouts has, over the last 25 years, worked for a number of different Belgian and international NGOs focused on building peace, reconciliation, security and democratic processes. Until recently, he was the Director of EurAc, the network of European NGOs working for advocacy on Central Africa. He now works as an independent expert on Central Africa.

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