"Jointly led the Goma offensive" ... UN observers say Rwandan soldiers provided direct support to M23 rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Photo: AFP
NEW YORK: Rwandan soldiers provided direct support to M23 rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo who last month captured the eastern city of Goma, UN observers say.
Rwanda's General Emmanuel Ruvusha and the M23 commander, Sultani Makenga, ''jointly led the Goma offensive'', according to a November 27 letter from the UN Group of Experts to the UN Security Council. As many as 1000 Rwanda Defence Force troops crossed the border to support operations in the village of Kibumba, it said.
The letter offers an account of the Rwandan military's involvement, citing former Rwandan officers and senior Congolese commanders. It 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 front lines at the village of Kibumba,'' the letter said. As rebels advanced on November 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 withdrew on December 1 in anticipation of negotiations with the President of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Joseph Kabila. The rebels have remained within a 20-kilometre neutral zone they had agreed to leave, according to Brigadier-General Bansi Ponnappa, the commander of the UN's North Kivu brigade.
Rwanda has consistently rejected the findings of the UN Group of Experts monitoring an arms embargo on Congo.
The three-page letter is 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 shied 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''.
Rwanda, which is to take up a seat on the UN Security Council next month, adamantly rejects previous allegations that it created, equipped, trained and directly commanded the M23 rebellion in Congo's North Kivu province. Ugandan involvement has also been denied.
Louise Mushikiwabo, Rwanda's Foreign Minister, said on Tuesday: ''Rwanda cannot continuously engage with factless accusations. We have serious issues to deal with. We don't need the distraction. We'll leave it to those who enjoy fiction.''
Congo and Rwanda have fought directly or by proxy since the late 1990s. At stake are deposits of tin ore, gold, tungsten and coltan, a mineral used in laptops and mobile phones.
Bloomberg, Guardian News & Media