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Rwanda attacked Congo troops, backed rebels: UN experts

#Rwanda #attacked #Congo #troops #backed #rebels #experts

Rwandan troops have attacked soldiers in DR Congo and aided the M23 rebel group, according to a report by independent UN experts provided to AFP on Thursday.

The results follow months of deepening tensions between the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Rwanda over the infamous M23.

The DRC has repeatedly accused Rwanda of supporting the militia, which has seized large areas in recent months. Kigali has repeatedly denied any involvement.

But Rwanda has launched military interventions in Congolese territory since at least November 2021, according to a 131-page report by experts for the UN Security Council.

Rwanda “also provided troop reinforcements” for certain M23 operations, the report said, “particularly when these were aimed at capturing strategic cities and territories.”

The investigation also found that Congolese forces had supported armed groups in the deeply troubled east.

The M23 – for “March 23 Movement” – is a mainly Congolese Tutsi group.

It first gained notoriety in 2012 when it briefly seized the city of Goma in eastern DRC before being driven out by a joint Congolese and UN offensive.

After lying largely dormant for years, the rebel group resumed fighting late last year.

It has made significant advances, most notably taking the strategic town of Bunagana on the Uganda border in June.

– ‘Joint Attack’ –

On May 25, the report said, a major DRC army base in Rumangabo in eastern North Kivu province came under heavy mortar and small arms fire.

M23 fighters and Rwandan troops “jointly attacked” the site after Rwandan troops invaded the DRC the day before, sources said.

An estimated 1,000 Rwandan troops also cut the main road leading to the provincial capital Goma, a key trading hub on the Rwandan border, and attacked Congolese positions, sources said.

On the eve of the Bunagana attack and on the day itself, Rwandan soldiers were nearby, the report said, citing drone images from the UN peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, eyewitnesses, and amateur videos and photos.

It added that Ugandan troops at the border have agreed to M23 fighters entering the DRC.

“On repeated occasions, aerial photographs have shown large columns of up to 500 armed men moving in a very organized manner near the borders with the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Uganda,” the report said.

The columns of soldiers wore “standard military clothing” very similar to Rwandan army uniforms, the report added.

Some 300 Rwandan troops also conducted operations against rebel groups in eastern DRC, including the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).

The FDLR is a Rwandan Hutu rebel group based in the Democratic Republic of Congo that the Rwandan government views as a threat. Kigali has regularly accused Congo of supporting the militia.

– DRK and militias –

The UN report also found that the Congolese army supported active militias in the east of the country.

For example, on May 26, after being driven out of positions near the Goma highway, the Congolese army, together with militia fighters, launched a counterattack.

According to the report, a coalition of armed groups had formed in May with the knowledge of Congolese officers.

Several militia leaders confirmed to experts that the Congolese army had provided them with arms and ammunition “on several occasions,” she added.

Relations between the DRC and Rwanda have been strained since the mass influx of Rwandan Hutus accused of slaughtering Tutsi during the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Relations began to thaw following the inauguration of DRC President Felix Tshisekedi in 2019, but the resurgence of the M23 led to renewed tensions.

The report comes after 36 people were killed in protests against the UN peacekeeping force in eastern Congo last week, fueled by perceptions that it is ineffective against armed groups.

A poll by New York University’s Congo Research Group and Congolese research institute Ebuteli, released Thursday, found that 44 percent of Congolese polled believed peacekeepers should leave the country.

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