[A-List] Former Rebels Put Rwanda under Spotlight
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Wed Nov 12 02:23:37 MST 2008
Former rebels put Rwanda under spotlight
By Matthew Green in Goma
Published: November 11 2008 23:26 | Last updated: November 11 2008 23:26
Rwanda has sought to portray itself as little more than a bystander to
unfolding scenes of advancing rebels again forcing refugees to scatter
across the border in eastern Congo.
But in interviews with the Financial Times, former rebels and
independent observers on the ground said the uprising – led by Laurent
Nkunda, the renegade Congolese general – relies heavily on recruitment
in Rwanda and former or even active Rwandan soldiers.
Nkunda: 25 per cent of his army is said to be Rwandan
Congo campaign to drive out peacekeepers - Nov-09
Editorial Comment: Conflict in Congo - Nov-09
Congo faces fresh cataclysm - Nov-06
Rebel grip tightens in eastern Congo - Nov-02
Congo's truce holds as rebels close in - Oct-31
Congo rebels 'cease fire' as UN urges restraint - Oct-30
Former rebels point to a close and, complex relationship in which
Rwanda's government is able to exert considerable leverage on Mr
Paul Kagame, the president, has sought to distance Rwanda both from
the Congo crisis and international diplomatic efforts to resolve it.
At a press conference in Kigali, the capital, last week he said: "What
have I to do with what is going on in the Congo?"
The answer lies partly in the hillside villages and refugee camps in
Rwanda that are a vital recruiting ground for Mr Nkunda's CNDP
movement. Former rebels say that in the past few years he has
recruited Congolese Tutsi refugees there, as well as Rwandan
nationals, who often are former soldiers acting as mercenaries.
Military experts say Rwandans make up at least 25 per cent of his
4,000 to 6,000-strong army.
One Rwandan told the FT he had left his cassava farm in March to join
six countrymen in the rebellion, but deserted his platoon commander
post this month because he had not been paid. "I was looking for
money," said the former Rwandan army soldier. "There was no payment,
that's why I left."
The United Nations mission in Congo says 73 Rwandans, mainly
combatants, were repatriated after leaving Mr Nkunda's forces last
year. A further 76 followed between January and September 10 this
year. Human rights workers say many more are likely to stay in the
rebel ranks – those that have left say would-be deserters are beaten
Rwanda says the recruitment is clandestine and without its support.
But human rights activists say it could try harder to stop
recruitment. UN officials suspect the CNDP has a network of financial
backers that stretches from Rwanda to South Africa and the US.
According to another rebel who recently deserted, units of Rwandan
soldiers have fought next to Mr Nkunda's forces during the past few
years. "There were groups of soldiers from Rwanda who were with us,"
He said his uncle, a Rwandan army officer, continued to receive his
salary while fighting with Mr Nkunda, and that Rwandan troops who
wanted to visit home were given border passes. Other former fighters
have described using razor blades to remove the Rwandan flag from
uniforms sent to Mr Nkunda's forces.
Evidence of more recent Rwandan support surfaced on October 29, when
Uruguayan peacekeepers and international journalists reported seeing
Rwandan tanks and artillery firing across the border at Congolese
troops defending Goma.
Mr Nkunda's latest offensive secured a chunk of territory that
connects the plateau around his headquarters with a strip of land
along the border that might ease infiltration of men or weapons from
Mr Nkunda and the Rwandan government, military and business elite
share a history from before the 1994 genocide of Rwanda's Tutsi
minority. Mr Nkunda, a Congolese Tutsi, began his military career as
an intelligence officer in the guerrilla army Mr Kagame, a Rwandan
Tutsi, used to stop the massacre and seize power.
Mr Kagame launched invasions of Congo in 1996 and 1998 and supported
uprisings that Rwandan officials maintain were aimed at neutralising
the threat posed by ethnic Hutu fighters who fled following the
The Congolese government of Joseph Kabila, the president, has
periodically adopted the exiled Hutu militias to bolster its weak
authority in the east, putting it at odds with Kigali.
Mr Nkunda may have reduced his dependence on Rwanda by marshalling
significant support from a part of the Congolese political elite that
feels marginalised by Mr Kabila, but the government still wields
considerable influence. Diplomats say Mr Kagame intervened personally
to dissuade Mr Nkunda from over-running Goma when he reached the edge
of the city late last month .
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