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UN Group of Experts Interview (Part II)

This is the second installment of an interview with the UN Group of Experts. Their report can be found here. This part covers their investigations into Congolese and foreign armed groups, as well as reflections about sanctions in general.

Congolese armed groups

  1. You conclude that several Congolese armed groups have used force to help candidates during the electoral process. What are some examples of such armed groups?

Throughout our investigations on Congolese armed groups, we discovered a pattern of relationships with local and national politicians who support and advise armed groups from their ethnic group or territory of origin, benefiting from the presence of these rebels through a) financial profits of illegal taxation or natural resources, b) increased leverage in government negotiations over positions due to their capacity to influence perceptions of insecurity, c) manipulation of electoral and decision-making processes.  The fighting between the APCLS and the NDC (Mai Mai Sheka), which displaced tens of thousands in Walikale territory last year, can largely be attributed to territorial disputes over access to natural resources and the quest to increase territorial seats in the national and provincial assemblies in the interest of certain politicians.

Nevertheless, while some had feared that armed groups would disrupt the electoral process, we found that they were rather strategically preparing for a post-electoral scenario in which they could take advantage of perceived failings in the process to mobilize support. Both Congolese and foreign armed groups anticipated that a portion of the Congolese population would question the credibility of the vote and that this would enhance their capacity to recruit and procure financial and military backing.

For those armed groups which had already been integrated into the FARDC, notably the CNDP, we observed clear support for the President’s campaign and preparations to force votes for CNDP candidates in legislative elections. Ntaganda deployed troops and police elements loyal to him to ensure that only candidates allied to the MP could campaign in areas controlled by the CNDP.  In exchange, these former armed groups were provided with extensive power and key command positions. Given their dramatic military and economic gains since reaching agreements with the national government, an opposition victory from an anti-Rwandophone candidate would have been disastrous for these former armed groups and very probably have led to a return to conflict with the CNDP now in unmatched positions of power and influence.

  1. You spent a lot of time investigating the CNDP – how successful has their integration in the Congolese army been? Is it true that Rwandophone officers from CNDP and PARECO have been given a lot of power in the police and army?

We documented particular challenges created by the integration of former armed groups into the FARDC. Three years since this process began, parallel command structures remain and former CNDP Chief of Staff General Ntaganda has come to monopolize nearly all military decision-making in the East, hijacking the process of the reorganisation of the army into regiments and appointing ex-CNDP commanders to key positions to the detriment of those from other former armed groups and previous national armies. He has also managed to deploy his units to areas where he has strategic and economic interests.

Aside from the army, Ntaganda has controlled a loyal ‘parallel’ police force in Masisi territory, composed of ex-CNDP and ex- PARECO officers. Despite the official end to the CNDP parallel administration in Masisi in 2010, taxation by their solders has continued and largely profited Ntaganda.  Finally, Ntaganda has assigned troops to support CNDP loyalist and militia leader, Erasto Ntibaturana,  in organizing unilateral resettlements of populations in northern Masisi, where tensions over land remain widespread.

  1. What do you think needs to be done to promote the demobilization or integration of remaining armed groups in the eastern Congo?

As we indicated in our interim report last June, the Congolese government suspended all coordinated activities with MONUSCO to sensitize and promote mass demobilizations for ex-combatants to be disarmed and reintegrated into civilian life. Furthermore, the military office in charge of integrating ex-combatants into the army closed its offices in North and South Kivu last year.  As a result, the only official government-approved option for Congolese ex-combatants is individual desertion in which they can obtain a certificate that they can use to try to seek out, without any structured support, livelihood projects from NGOs or UN agencies.

Ad hoc solutions can always be reached with armed groups, but this only undermines the capacity of the government to fix credible deadlines about the possibility to join the FARDC.  Nevertheless, the preferential treatment for Rwandophone ex-rebels integrated into the FARDC, from CNDP, PARECO, and FRF, is undoubtedly a critical obstacle to reaching even these improvised arrangements with remaining armed groups. Military operations against Congolese armed groups have taken place, such as in Fizi territory, with mixed results, particularly when FARDC units sent to the front lines are plagued by internal command disputes resulting from perceived ex-CNDP privilege.

While consistently integrating rebel commanders into the army does undoubtedly lead to inflated demands of remaining militia leaders and/or disgruntlement by career officers and soldier, the reality is that some arrangements need to be made with certain armed group leaders. Ultimately though, meritocratic and capacity-based criteria must evolve to become the basis for the selection of command positions within the FARDC. In order to level the playing field in this regard, legitimate re-training and “catch-up” courses specially designed for former armed group commanders, some of whom are illiterate, are needed in order to allow them to compete and earn command positions in the eyes of their fellow military officers.

Foreign armed groups

  1. Where do the main foreign armed groups in the Congo – the FDLR, FNL, ADF and LRA – get their support from? Are they mostly supported and financed locally or are their regional and international support networks?

While the FDLR has historically had the strongest support networks within the Great Lakes region, including in Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi, these contacts have been dramatically reduced in recent years. Only some limited links remain in Burundi as well as in Uganda, although commercial and business partners of the rebels are quite significant in the latter. The FNL combatants present in the DRC have benefited from foreign financing from its political leadership, donations from supporters in Bujumbura and Uvira as well as within the Burundian security services, and timber and gold trade networks through Tanzania. For its part, the ADF has extensive local commercial contacts in Beni territory but also receives foreign financing channeled through Jamil Makulu’s international Islamic networks. Finally, as the Group has repeatedly concluded, the LRA sustains itself exclusively through pillage attacks and does not receive any external support, participate in local commerce or is involved in the trade in natural resources.

  1. You conclude that some of the leading opposition figures in Burundi, including Alexis Sinduhije and Pancras Cimpaye, are involved in planning military action against the ruling government. How were you able to reach this conclusion and what does this say about the current political and security situation in Burundi?

Over the course of 2011, members of the Burundian political opposition concluded that, in light of the deterioration of the human rights, political, and governance situation in the country, the only way to attract the attention of the international community and the Burundian government was to mobilize armed forces in order to force a political dialogue. In a two-pronged strategy, while demanding direct concessions from the government, Sinduhije, Cimpaye, Nyangoma, Rwasa, and Kampayano established and activated networks of support for a wider armed rebellion, which included the FNL rebels present in South Kivu. As the Group of Experts’ mandate does not include the Burundian internal situation, but only support for armed groups present in the DRC, we have not explored why these prominent opposition political figures would have adopted such a strategy, nor why they would have found so much support amongst the population and in particular significant segments of the Burundian army, police, and even the intelligence services.

Nevertheless, we reached these conclusions first and foremost through interviews with a number of current FNL officers and combatants both in Bujumbura and in the Uvira territory, four arrested rebel collaborators currently in the Bujumbura prison, and four completely independent Burundian as well as international interlocutors in consistent communication with these political leaders. Though not mentioned in the report, in a telephone conversation in August, FRD rebel commander in Ruyigi, Colonel Pierre Claver Kabirigi, also confirmed for us the direct involvement of these political leaders in mobilizing for an armed rebellion, which included his forces, those of FRONABU-TABARA, the FNL and others.

Our conclusions are consistent with public and private statements made by members of the ADC-Ikibiri, who have repeatedly alluded to the threat of an armed rebellion as a reason to justify political dialogue with the government following their contestation of the 2010 elections. Cimpaye told us in an interview that the greatest error that his political party, FRODEBU, had committed was not taking up arms. In speaking with other FRODEBU senior members, Cimpaye’s activities in support of the rebellion were said not to have been officially condoned by the party leadership.  Finally, we were able to independently confirm specific details provided to us by various echelons of the Burundian intelligence services, including from low-level information gathers. However, senior intelligence leadership were resistant to the Group referring openly to an “armed rebellion” out of fear of undermining international perceptions of post-conflict Burundi.

[For the purposes of clarity, the title in Annex 26 of the final report regarding a phone call by Alexis Sinduhije to a collaborator in Rumonge has been updated in the on-line version of the report. A screen shot of this page can be found here.]

  1. The FDLR is one of the most notorious and abusive armed groups in the Congo. Their numbers have declined dramatically in the past years and you say that their financing now comes increasingly from outside the mining sector. Can we conclude that they are on their way out?

The FDLR is certainly not the force it was four or five years ago and its numbers have declined with some high-ranking officers defecting or being assassinated recently. However, the Rwandan rebels remain the most politically significant and militarily strong rebel force in the region. The total number of all Congolese armed groups roughly matches that of the estimates of that of the FDLR.  Outside of the recent individual assassinations and the RDF operations in Rutshuru last year, the FDLR had not truly been the objects of much military pressure since the end of Umoja Wetu and the very beginning of the Kimya II operations. Due to increased desertions and banditry in remote units, however, General Mudacumura ordered a re-deployment of battalions in 2011 shifting them closer to his headquarters and potential support networks in Uganda.

While their direct access to and organization of mineral trafficking has decreased in recent years, (mostly due to take-over by FARDC criminal networks), the FDLR retain extensive capacity to conduct commercial activities in mining areas, particularly in exchange for gold, as well as cannabis which can bring them significant revenue. As local alliances with Congolese armed groups have been critical in this regard, the breakdown of some of these arrangements recently will prove very detrimental to the rebels.

Finally, though the rebel’s remaining political representatives abroad have gone underground since the arrests of some key leaders, call logs demonstrate continued communications with international contacts throughout Africa, North America, and Europe. Despite internal leadership problems apparently stemming from General Mudacumura’s personality and general war fatigue, the hopes for eventual support from Rwandan dissidents, such as General Kayumba and Colonel Karegeya, or a drastic turn of events within Rwanda, have remained widespread amongst both FDLR officers and the rank and file.

  1. The Rwandan government has alleged that dissidents such as Kayumba Nyamwasa and Patrick Karegeya are complicit with armed groups in the eastern Congo. Did you find any evidence for this? 

We spent a great deal of time investigating the allegations that members of the Rwanda National Congress (RNC), including Kayumba and Karegeya, were supporting armed groups in the eastern DRC, notably the FDLR. However, despite widespread interest amongst rebel groups in obtaining this support, leading some to contact these individuals in South Africa, we did not find conclusive evidence that any concrete financial or material support originated from the RNC. Nevertheless, in one case of a splinter group of RUD, we did document both wire transfers and material support from the Rwandan opposition political party, the Convention nationale républicaine-Intwari (CNR), led by former Defense Minister Emmanuel Habyarimana. While Kayumba’s RNC and Habyarimana’s CNR have forged a political alliance (despite some ideological differences), we could not conclude that such support was operationally coordinated between the two parties.


  1. Do you think your reports matter? Have governments taken action based on your recommendations? Many would say, for example, that most of the individuals on the sanctions list do not have bank accounts or travel across state borders.

Our reports are meant to serve first and foremost as a decision-making tool for the Security Council, when considering the designation of individuals and entities in violations of the arms embargo and sanctions regime. However, sanctions are never automatic as the Security Council is an inter-governmental body and not a judicial one. Targeted sanctions are a tool that the Security Council can use to impact the behavior of individuals and entities supporting armed groups in the DRC and encourage compliance with the regime so it can eventually be lifted. Unfortunately, when sanctioned individuals, or those extensively documented in reports who are not listed, see little impact on their activities or are able to quickly change front companies, the effectiveness of the regime can be called into question. Also, the absence of designations of companies whose purchases indirectly or directly benefit armed groups and who do not conduct due diligence on their suppliers can weaken Security Council efforts to call greater attention to the risks of exacerbating conflict by economic actors.

Nevertheless, the Council has been broadly receptive to most of our recommendations, including our due diligence guidelines and stockpile management for the Congolese armed forces. Furthermore, governments, media, national civil society, and international NGOs have and can take action based upon the analysis and findings documented in the report.

There is however significant remove for improvement by States to enforce the travel ban and assets freeze on designated individuals and entities. While many of those on the list do not have bank accounts or leave the DRC, General Ntaganda’s expanding financial empire documented extensively in the report is certainly the opposite impact that one would like to see. Moreover, there is credible testimony that Ntaganda has bank accounts in the name of family members in neighboring Rwanda and traveled at least two times into Rwanda during our mandate, without requesting any travel authorization from the sanctions committee for special circumstances. The Rwandan government told us that they saw Ntaganda’s role as crucial to peace and security in the region.

Posted by Jason Stearns

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