The Rwandan Government has dismissed a report by a United Group of Experts alleging that Rwandan troops were conducting incursions in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The UN’s latest report by its panel of experts mentions operations led by Rwandan and Burundian armed forces in eastern DRC from late 2019 to October 2020. Operations that both Kigali and Gitega deny.
In a statement released on Friday, January 8, 2021, the Kigali administration rejected the findings of the report released on December 23, 2020, which claimed that there was sufficient evidence that Rwandan and Burundian forces were operating in Eastern DRC.
“The Government of Rwanda refutes allegations from the UN Group of Experts (GoE) Midterm report dated 23rd December 2020, and reiterates that there were no Rwandan troops on the territory of the Democratic Republic of Congo and that there had been no recent Rwanda Defence Forces (RDF) joint operations with the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC),” the statement partly reads, adding;
“Rwanda enjoys cordial bilateral relations with the DRC, and there are several existing bilateral cooperation engagements, including military cooperation. However, such cooperation is exclusively limited to intelligence sharing on various armed groups operating in Eastern DRC that are a common threat to both countries.”
On April 27, 2020, President Paul Kagame also denied the same allegations during a press videoconference.
But the 200-page report states that “from late 2019 to early October 2020, members of the Rwandan Defence Forces (RDF) were present in North Kivu.”
According to the report, “the Burundian army, alongside members of the Imbonerakure, also launched attacks on South Kivu between November 2019 and July 2020.” These interventions were allegedly carried out “in violation of the sanctions regime” because they were not reported to the UN committee responsible for ensuring compliance.
To support these accusations, the authors of the report say they rely on several pieces of evidence (documents, photographs, aerial images, etc.) and state that the presence of RDF has been confirmed in the territories of Nyiragongo, Rutshuru and Masisi.
They cite in particular a letter from Célestin Mbala, the Chief of Staff of the Congolese Armed Forces (FARDC), addressed on 22 April 2020 to the Expanded Joint Verification Mechanism of the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR). The last example mentioned by the group of experts dates back to 2 October 2020.
Relations between Kinshasa and Kigali have been cordial since President Félix Antoine Tshisekedi took office in January 2019, with the two countries working together to restore peace not only in Eastern DRC but also in the Great Lakes Region through diplomatic cooperation.
The controversy isn’t new, even though until now it has systematically been denied by authorities in both Kinshasa and Kigali.
Military cooperation between the DRC and Rwanda had previously been stepped up during the last six months of Joseph Kabila’s regime, with the repatriation of demobilised FDLR soldiers and the December 2018 arrest of two high-ranking officials of the rebel group by Congolese law enforcement. However, the cooperation has been propelled even further since Félix Tshisekedi took office.
After a disputed election, the Congolese president swiftly moved to initiate a rapprochement with his regional neighbours, targeting Rwanda in particular, despite some misgivings within his own camp.
Tshisekedi’s stated goal at the time was to foster cooperation between the various regional partners in the fight against armed groups present in eastern DRC.
Although this joint military project has never materialised, Kigali and Kinshasa have consolidated their military cooperation, raising questions regarding its scope, which have only been heightened by the death of several officials from FDLR and dissident factions of the rebel group during the last three months of 2019.
According to the official line, the cooperation is limited to intelligence swapping. Tshisekedi notably mentioned this during an interview with the French daily Le Monde and television network TV5 Monde back in September 2019.
Kagame commented on the subject during his press videoconference, alluding to how the two countries share information on rebel groups in North Kivu province.
“Fortunately, the Congolese government has agreed to work in collaboration with the countries of the region, its neighbours, in an attempt to resolve this problem of armed groups which has been going on for decades,” said the Rwandan president.
When asked about the framework of the cooperation at the end of 2019, a senior Congolese officer confirmed the existence of a “joint intelligence team [ECR] which brings together civilian and military data collected by the two countries to provide them to units of the Armed Forces of the DRC [FARDC], which specialise in operations against rebel groups,” ensuring that recently killed FDLR rebel chiefs were taken out based on such intelligence.
While he denied there being any Rwandan soldiers in South Kivu, Kagame nonetheless assured that he had intelligence reporting the presence of government-backed Burundian troops in the province where rebel groups, particularly RED-Tabara, a movement hostile to Gitega’s government, are known to be found.
Rwanda has accused the UN Group of Experts of lack of good faith, despite the cooperation Kigali has accorded them.
“The Government of Rwanda regrets the shortcomings of the UN GoE report, and the lack of good faith demonstrated by the experts. Despite being granted access to various Government institutions, facilitated in meeting witnesses and provided with responses to all issues raised, the UN GoE report omitted key information and clarifications provided by the GoR,” says the Rwandan authorities.
It is not the first time Rwanda has questioned the motive of UN GoE. Between 2012 and 2013, during the M23 uprising, Rwanda accused the UN GoE led by Steven Hege of running a smear campaign to tarnish the image of Rwanda with unfounded allegations.
The Government of Rwanda expressed its deepest concerns towards what it called the lack of rigor from the UN GoE in the fulfilment of its mandate, raising serious concerns about the independence of its reports.
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