A United Nations Group of Experts says that it has “solid evidence” that Rwandan troops have been fighting alongside the M23 rebel group in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and providing it with weapons and support.
The panel presented evidence based on eyewitness testimony and drone footage that the Rwanda Defence Force has supported the M23 rebel group since November.
Bloomberg reports that the group said that the soldiers attacked rebel groups based in Congo who oppose the Rwandan government, and fought against the Congolese army, known as the FARDC, to expand M23 territory.
Congo’s government spokesman Patrick Muyaya said on Twitter that the government “rejoiced at the conclusions of the work of the group of experts,” which it hoped would “put an end to Rwandan interference.”
Rwanda’s government said the M23 is “well-known as a problem of the DRC, which they seek to make a burden of other countries,” according to a statement published on its website. “Rwanda has disarmed and cantoned M23 fighters far from the DRC border. Others scattered in the region, who are in conflict with their government, are not Rwanda’s responsibility.”
The M23’s leadership is largely made up of members of Congo’s Tutsi community, who say they are defending the interests of Rwandan-language speakers in the country and fighting Hutu rebel groups accused of bearing responsibility for the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. More than 800,000 people, most of them Tutsi, were killed during the mayhem.
The RDF has launched multiple attacks on Congolese territory against the Hutu groups, according to the UN experts’ report.
Rwanda accused Congo of working closely with one of the Hutu-led groups, known as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, or FDLR, according to its statement. It also said recent Congolese attacks and shelling into Rwandan territory killed its citizens and destroyed property.
“Rwanda has a legitimate and sovereign right to defend our territory and citizens, and not just wait for disaster to unfold,” the government said in the statement.
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The experts’ dispatch comes less than two months after Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi accused Kigali of backing rebels against his government. Rwandan leader Paul Kagame denied the allegations and said Tshisekedi had failed to deal with militant groups in eastern Congo, including insurgents linked to the genocide that Kagame wants to be destroyed.
The Rwandan army unilaterally or with M23 combatants “engaged in military operations against Congolese armed groups and FARDC positions,” the experts said in the 29-page report. The Rwandans also “provided troop reinforcements” to the rebels for specific operations, such as seizing strategic towns, according to the document.
Since March, the M23 has nearly tripled the size of the territory under its control, including the town of Bunagana on Congo’s border with Uganda, according to a group of experts.
The report includes an annexe with dozens of pages of photographs and screen captures of drone footage that appear to support accusations by Congo’s government that Rwanda is backing the M23 rebellion, which the UN refugee agency estimates to have displaced more than 170,000 people since November. The Congolese army and UN peacekeepers defeated a previous M23 rebellion backed by Rwanda in 2013.