Kagame and his generals are backing DRC rebels
Windhoek ‑ A leaked United Nations special report identifies Rwanda Defence Minister, General James Kabarebe, as the commanding officer of a major rebel movement in the DRC, indicating that President Paul Kagame and his government are behind much of the instability in the SADC member state.
SADC Heads of State and Government in August said Rwanda must stop fomenting instability in the DRC, with President Kagame repeatedly denying his involvement in the emergence of a rebel group calling itself March 23 (M23) and which has been fighting government forces for months.
But now a second UN-commissioned report has fingered President Kagame, who remains a key US and British ally in the region since they tacitly backed his and Uganda’s sponsorship of rebels in the last DRC war in 1998.
The newest UN group of experts report was leaked to the media and will be made public in November.
It serves as a psychological and moral boost for the DRC and those countries that are ratcheting up a diplomatic offensive aimed at securing international isolation of Rwanda through UN-backed sanctions and a minerals trade embargo.
The UN experts report singles out General Kabarebe as the brains behind the M23 rebel group, which has been fighting government forces in North and South Kivu since April this year.
The group started as a rag tag collection of mutineers from the national army, but it has rapidly metamorphosed into a well-organised and significantly equipped military force of more than 2 000 soldiers potent enough to face off with DRC army deployments and securing strategic points in the traditionally volatile eastern region of the country.
This quick escalation in activities carried out by the rebels indicates some sort of external backing.
The M23 rebel group is ostensibly led by the renegade general, Bosco Ntaganda, who is known as “Terminator”.
Gen Ntaganda mutinied from the DRC army earlier this year and is on the International Criminal Court’s wanted list.
A rebel named Sultani Makenga is cited by the UN experts as Gen Ntaganda’s second-in-command and is reportedly in charge of operations and co-ordination.
Rwanda Defence Minister Gen Kabarebe is nailed in the report as directly involved in providing M23 with military support. The report adds that he has in the past facilitated – and still could be facilitating - recruitment of fighters, transfer of weapons and ammunition, and use of his contacts in the DRC army to organise serving soldiers to mutiny and join the rebels.
“M23’s defacto chain of command … culminates with the Rwandan Minister of Defence General James Kabarebe,” the UN report states.
Gen Ntaganda and Makenga are said to “receive direct military orders from the Rwanda Defence Force (RDF) Chief of Defence Staff General Charles Kayonga, who in turn acts on instructions from Minister of Defence James Kabarebe”, the UN report adds.
Uganda is also accused of supporting the rebels by supplying M23 with arms.
“Both Rwanda and Uganda have been supporting M23. While Rwandan officials co-ordinated the creation of the rebel movement, as well as its major military operations, Uganda’s more subtle support to M23 allowed the rebel group’s political branch to operate from within Kampala and boost its external relations,” the report says.
The Uganda and Rwanda armies assisted the rebels to take over Rutshuru in July and a Congolese army base of Rumangabo, it is alleged.
“According to several M23 soldiers, RDF troops provided the rebels with heavy weapons such as 12.7mm machine guns, 60mm, 91mm and 120mm mortars, as well as anti-tank and anti-aircraft launches ahead of the attack.
“RDF Special Forces in Rutshuru also aided the rebels and fired 13 rounds on a FARDC (DRC national army) combat helicopter during the takeover of Kiwanja,” the UN report says.
The DRC government says that the 53-year-old Gen Kabarebe is closely allied to President Kagame and his involvement in the war in the eastern parts of the country has the full blessings of the Rwanda government.