Rwanda Defense Force soldiers provided direct support to M23 rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo who last month captured the eastern city of Goma near the countries’ border, according to the UN Group of Experts.
Rwanda’s General Emmanuel Ruvusha and the M23 commander, Sultani Makenga, “jointly led the Goma offensive,” according to a Nov. 27 letter from the experts group to the United Nations Security Council. As many as 1,000 Rwandan troops crossed the border to support operations in the village of Kibumba, according to the letter, which was obtained by Bloomberg News.
The letter offers an account of the Rwandan military’s involvement in the offensive, citing former Rwandan officers and senior Congolese commanders. It also includes seven photos that show the crossing points and mortars supplied by Rwanda, along with uniforms worn by Rwandan officers and M23 rebels that are either identical or virtually indistinguishable.
“When the M23 began its offensive on Goma, it benefited from direct RDF support during combat on the frontlines at the village of Kibumba,” the UN Experts Group on the Democratic Republic of Congo said in its three-page letter. As rebels advanced toward Goma on Nov. 19, Rwandan forces “operated alongside M23 in combat at the airport and close to one of Goma’s border posts into Rwanda.”
After controlling the city for two weeks, M23 fighters withdrew from Goma on Dec. 1 in anticipation of direct negotiations with Democratic Republic of Congo’s President Joseph Kabila. The rebels have remained in a ring around the city, within a 20-kilometer (12-mile) neutral zone they had agreed to leave, according to Brigadier-General Bansi Ponnappa, the commander of the UN’s North Kivu brigade.
Congo and Rwanda have fought directly or by proxy since the late 1990s. At stake in the eastern part of Congo bordering Rwanda and Uganda are deposits of tin ore, gold, tungsten and coltan, a mineral used in laptops and mobile phones. The fighting in Africa’s second-largest country has left civilians without protection and created a security vacuum.
Armed groups, including the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, a mainly Hutu militia that opposes the Rwandan government, have thrived in eastern Congo’s remote hills for more than a decade.
Rwanda has consistently rejected the findings of the UN Group of Experts monitoring an arms embargo on Congo. The letter comes in addition to a 44-page report that said Rwandan officials have commanded the seven-month rebellion. Uganda also helped the M23 militia with “logistics,” the UN experts said.
The UN Security Council has so far shied away from directly naming Rwanda as taking a key role in commanding the M23.
The 15-member body last month demanded “that any and all outside support to the M23 as well as other armed groups cease immediately.” That language is indirectly aimed at neighboring Rwanda, accused by the Congolese government and a UN panel of experts of providing support for the M23 insurgents.
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