This article was updated to reflect MONUSCO’s official stance regarding Rwandan involvement and additional quotes from the Rwandan government.
After the BBC, now Human Rights Watch. The human rights group yesterday slammed the Rwandan government for providing support to the M23 mutiny. The group conducted research in the field, interviewing local villagers and several dozen M23 deserters. They concluded that, since Gen. Bosco Ntaganda gave orders for his followers to defect from the Congolese army in late March, Rwanda has been complicit in the recruitment of between 200 and 300 fighters, with Rwandan officials present at recruitment meetings and escorting recruits to the border.
According to these interviews, Rwandan officials also provided weapons, ammunition and free passage through their territory. The path allegedly taken by the new recruits has almost always been through a Rwandan military outpost close to Kinigi, then into the Congolese Virunga national park.
The report fleshes out accusations provided in an internal report by the UN peacekeeping mission that was leaked to the BBC last week. It also places Bosco at the center of the M23 rebellion, contrary to claims by the rebels. Defectors that I have spoken to separately suggest that Bosco is playing a key role in commanding M23 operations, although there are also clear tensions within the group, in particular between Col. Sultani Makenga and Bosco.
The Rwandan government has fiercely denied these claims, calling them “categorically false and dangerous.” They are particularly furious that an eyewitness report of seeing Bosco Ntaganda in a bar in Rwanda with an army officer would be seen as evidence of support. A Rwandan security official, who did not want to be named as he was not authorized to speak with the media, told me: “The Rwanda Defence Force is accused of running a massive recruitment and training mission, and yet HRW could not come up with a single piece of material evidence, just self-serving hearsay accounts from an unspecified number of anonymous witnesses. […] Despite this complete lack of factual evidence, that HRW expect people to believe the RDF was actively recruiting former FDLR militia – Rwanda’s sworn enemy – […] is beyond far-fetched.”
The UN peacekeeping mission has also since stated that, despite their internal report, they do not have proof that Rwanda is playing a direct role in the conflict.
Nonetheless, foreign donors are uneasy about the mounting evidence of Rwandan involvement. A senior American diplomat told me that his government was taking these reports very seriously and that they would be discussing these developments with their Rwandan counterparts. Foreign aid has contributed to between forty and fifty-five percent of Rwanda’s budget in recent years.
These accusations, however, have not taken the wind out of the sails of the mutiny. Over the weekend, members of the CNDP political party ended their alliance with President Kabila due to the rebellion, claiming that the government had not implemented the March 23, 2009 peace deal. The CNDP provincial minister of justice, Francois Rucogoza, resigned, and there have been reports of a small defection from the Congolese army to the mutiny over the weekend.