M23 Rebels Commanded by Rwanda’s Defense Minister – UN Report

Rwanda backing M23 rebels
Kabarebe seen here with AFRICOM commander

AFRICANGLOBE – The escalation of conflict in Congo by M23 rebels may signal a panic by Rwanda over its failed bid to get the United Nations to alter the final version of a damning report over its control of the insurgents.

Rwanda has total control of M23’s chain of command and direction of military operations, according to the UN report. Both Uganda and Rwanda have been accused in other past UN reports of massive plunder of Congo’s mineral and natural resource wealth.

Fighting flared up over this past weekend with M23 marching towards the Congo city of Goma, pushing back Congolese troops and forcing United Nations peacekeepers to use helicopter gunships to pummel insurgent positions. M23, so-called “rebels,” is very much a conventional army and rained artillery fire to clear a path towards Goma, according to media reports.

Why the suddenly escalation of fighting by M23 rebels, a violent fully-equipped army, which the United Nations in the group of experts’ report says is actually under the total command of Rwanda’s defense minister Gen. James Kabarebe. After an interim report by the UN group of experts earlier this summer accused Rwanda and Uganda of recruiting, backing, arming, training, and providing sanctuary for M23 rebels, both Kigali and Kampala denied the findings.

The U.S. shortly after announced cut in some aid to Rwanda and an Obama administration official, Stephen Rapp, who heads the U.S. Office of Criminal Justice, said Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame could be exposed to war crimes charges. Uganda recently sent a senior government minister Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda to New York where he lobbied member countries of the UN Security council to alter the final version of the report which is due to be released shortly.

Rwanda Also Protested

But after the UN group of experts met with senior Rwanda government officials and after Rwanda’s written protest the group refused to budge.

The group of experts says after it “took into consideration” Rwanda’s “written response” to the addendum of the earlier interim report “the Group has found no substantive element of its previous findings it wishes to alter.”

Indeed, a copy of the final version of the report shows that the lobbying effort by both Uganda and Rwanda failed.

Uganda had threatened to pull out its troop from peacekeeping in Somalia. The U.S. foots the bill since Washington is concerned that war-torn Somalia could become a haven for al-Shabab, and other groups affiliated with al-Qaeda.

The flare-up in M23’s Congo fighting could be Rwanda’s own way of trying to blackmail the UN before the official release of the final report.

Rwanda may want to show that it is the only country with the ability to stop the rampage. In return, Kigali may, cynically, hope to be embraced as “peacekeepers” by taming the M23 rebels, an army that the UN says it actually controls, directs, and commands.

According to the final version of the UN report, the chain of command of M23 passes through Bosco Ntaganda, the M23 titular leader, who has been indicted on war crimes charges, and ends with Rwanda’s minister of Defense Gen. Kabarebe.

Support for M23 Rebels

Bosco Ntaganda
Bosco Ntaganda is wanted by the ICC

Ntaganda receives “direct military orders from RDF Chief of Defense Staff General Charles Kayonga, who in turn acts on instructions from Minster of Defense General James Kabarebe” says the report. RDF is a reference to Rwanda Defense Forces. The report says a Rwandan general, Emmanuel Ruvusha, manages military ground support for the M23 rebels, while Permanent Secretary in the Defense Ministry, Gen. Jacques Nziza, provides strategic advice and oversees logistical support.

United States Mission to the United Nations was asked, in light of the flare-up of fighting by M23 rebels  and the UN report, whether Washington would call for sanctions on the Rwandan and Ugandan officials named in the report. Kathleen Herrera, a spokesperson at the US Mission did not respond to the questions, after providing an email address where to submit the questions.

According to the UN report Uganda has directed military operations by the M23 rebels and also provided heavy weapons to their fighters.

M23 also openly recruits in several Ugandan cities, and refugee camps, accompanied by members of the Ugandan military, the Uganda People’s Defense Force (UPDF), says the UN report.

As recently as July, an M23 colonel, Innocent Kaina, traveled “from Bunangama to Kasese, Uganda, to recruit with the assistance of UPDF officers” according to the UN report.

M23 leaders consult in Uganda with Gen. Salim Saleh, Uganda’s Presidential Advisor on Military Affairs and brother of the president, Gen. Yoweri K. Museveni, and with Uganda’s Inspector General of Police Gen. Kale Kayihura.

The U.S. Mission to the UN also didn’t respond to questions on whether the U.S. would also call for sanctions against Gen. Saleh and Gen. Kayihura.

The report found that “General Saleh has been principally responsible for UPDF support to the M23 rebels.”

M23 operates so openly in Uganda that it rents two houses in Kampala, the capital and the UN group of experts actually visited one of the houses, according to the report.

Ntaganda, wanted on war crimes charges, also travels to Uganda, in violation of a UN travel ban and purchased a house in Uganda, contravening an asset freeze, says the report. Ntaganda speaks regularly with top Uganda army commanders, says the UN report.

The report says the Ugandan training of the M23 rebels continued even after the interim report was published this past summer and that, as recently as September, Uganda was arming the M23 rebels.

According to the report Uganda and Rwanda also provide diplomatic and political advice to the M23 rebels; and, Rwanda’s Gen. Kabarebe even unilaterally nominated a “cabinet” for the M23 rebels, including its political leader.

Gen. Kabarebe’s control is so total that when the “cabinet” met some of its members didn’t even know about their nomination as ministers.

The report says M23 fighters recruited in Rwanda who flee Congo and return home are captured by Rwandan soldiers and returned to Congo where they are either executed or subjected to “horrible” punishments.

According to the report, child soldiers are sometimes sent to the frontline by M23 rebels after only week’s training.

This past summer after the interim report was issued the U.S. cut some aid to Rwanda. The report says Rwanda’s regular army troops still operate in Congo.

U.S. would continue any military assistance to Rwanda and Uganda in light of the attack on Goma by M23 rebels and the final version of the United Nations report.

The U.S. Mission to the UN did not respond.

The reputation of the UN Security Council is at stake if the world body fails to make it clear that Rwanda and Uganda are responsible for the M23 triggered bloodshed in Congo.

The Rwanda and Uganda governments have received heavy U.S. and U.K. support through the years.