December 12, 2008

A United Nations panel of experts has once again accused Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame and his government of supporting warlord Laurent Nkunda in his years-long killing spree in eastern Congo.

A report presented to the Sanctions Committee of the UN Security Council on Friday says that Rwandan authorities “have been complicit in the recruitment of soldiers, including children, have facilitated the supply of military equipment and have sent officers and units” from the Rwandan army to help warlord Laurent Nkunda.

Congolese authorities have always said that the eastern Congo rebels were being supplied in men and arms by Rwanda. After the rebels started their offensive this summer, the government presented documents found on rebels killed in combat that linked them to the Rwanda Defense Forces (RDF). The documents included RDF identity cards and mission orders from their commanders to report to Laurent Nkunda.

The report also says that Rwanda helped the rebels’ advance towards Goma in October with a barrage of artillery and mortar fire.

Even more damaging, the UN experts presented evidence of satellite phone calls between the office of Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame and Laurent Nkunda’s CNDP rebels.

The Financial Times is reporting that “In a blow to Kigali, Bert Koenders, the Dutch development minister, said his government would be suspending budgetary support to Rwanda as a result of the UN findings. The €3m ($4m, £2.7m) package is relatively small but the Dutch move is a sign of international impatience with neighbourhood meddling in Congo”.

Other governments and organizations may soon cut funding to the Rwandan government because of its support to Laurent Nkunda rebels, who have been accused for years of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in eastern Congo.

On Thursday, US rights group Human Rights Watch released a report on how Laurent Nkunda’s rebels summarily executed an estimated 150 innocent civilians on November 4-5, 2008 in the town of Kiwanja.

More than 5,400,000 people have died in Congo since 1998, most of them in eastern Congo, because of wars launched by foreign-backed rebels. 45,000 are estimated to be dying each month. More than 1,000,000 innocent civilians are displaced today in eastern Congo because of Laurent Nkunda’s resources war.

The UN report also says that the rebels use the mines under their control to finance their rebellion. It cited warlord Laurent Nkunda’s control of the Bibatama mine of Columbite-Tantalite (Coltan), a mineral used worldwide to produce electronics components in cell phones, LCD screens, TVs and computers.

Many experts on the Great Lakes region have long discarded Laurent Nkunda’s claim of protecting the Tutsi minority in Congo as the real reason for his rebellion. They have accused the warlord of fighting a resources war instead, and using the presence of Rwandan Hutu militiamen (FDLR) in eastern Congo as a pretext.

This is not the first UN report to establish the link between mineral resources and the rebels in eastern Congo. A UN report released in 2002 accused Rwandan-backed rebels and the Rwandan army of mass-scale looting and exploitation of natural resources in eastern Congo.