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Rwandan troops allegedly fought alongside M23 Rebels in DR Congo

Rwandan troops allegedly fought alongside M23 Rebels in DR Congo

Rwandan troops allegedly fought alongside M23 Rebels in DR Congo

Rwandan troops allegedly fought alongside M23 Rebels in DR Congo

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  • A UN experts report indicates that 3,000-4,000 Rwandan soldiers fought alongside M23 rebels in eastern DR Congo.
  • The report reveals that Rwandan President Kigali had “de facto control” over the group’s operations.
  • The M23 rebellion has held North Kivu province in its grip since the end of 2021.
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According to a UN experts report seen by AFP on Monday, some 3,000-4,000 Rwandan soldiers fought alongside M23 rebels in eastern DR Congo. The report noted that Kigali had “de facto control” over the group’s operations. Since the end of 2021, the M23 (March 23 Movement) rebellion has held the North Kivu province in its grip, seizing swathes of territory and establishing a parallel regime in the areas under its control.

Kinshasa has accused Rwanda of backing the Tutsi-led M23 rebel group. Rwanda has never acknowledged that its troops were operating in the Democratic Republic of Congo. However, the report commissioned by the UN Security Council stated that the Rwandan army’s “de facto control and direction over M23 operations” makes the country “liable for the actions of M23.”

The report stated that Rwanda Defense Force (RDF) military interventions and operations in the Nyiragongo, Rutshuru, and Masisi territories — all in North Kivu — played a critical role in the impressive territorial expansion achieved by the M23 between January and March 2024.

At the time of writing in April, the report’s researchers estimated that the number of Rwandan troops “matched if not surpassed” the number of M23 soldiers, believed to be around 3,000. The report includes authenticated photographs, drone footage, video recordings, testimony, and intelligence confirming the RDF’s systematic border incursions.

The footage and photos depict rows of armed men in uniform operating equipment such as artillery and armored vehicles with radar and anti-aircraft missile systems, as well as trucks for transporting troops. Until the end of 2023, Rwandan authorities publicly denied that their troops were operating alongside M23 rebels in North Kivu. Since then, Kigali has ceased to comment directly on such accusations.

On June 20, Rwandan President Paul Kagame stated on France 24, “we are ready to fight” against the Democratic Republic of Congo if necessary, although he avoided addressing his country’s military presence in the country. For several months, the United States, France, Belgium, and the European Union have been urging Rwanda to withdraw its forces and ground-to-air missiles from Congolese soil and to cease supporting the M23.

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The report also indicated that Rwandan soldiers and M23 combatants have been supervising the recruitment of children as young as 12 from “almost all refugee camps in Rwanda,” sending them to training camps in the rebel zone.

“Recruits aged 15 and above were combat-trained and dispatched to the frontlines to fight,” it said.

It added that intelligence officers in Rwanda generally recruited minors “through false promises of remuneration or employment,” and forcefully took those who did not consent. During their offensives, the M23 and Rwandan army specifically targeted localities predominantly inhabited by Hutus in areas known as strongholds of the FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda).

The FDLR, a Rwandan rebel group formed by former senior Hutu officials responsible for the genocide of Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994, has taken refuge in DR Congo. Kigali considers the group’s presence in eastern DR Congo a threat. The international community has urged an end to foreign intervention in war-torn DR Congo and has also called on Kinshasa to distance itself from the FDLR.

However, the UN report noted that the DRC government has employed several “North Kivu armed groups, including the FDLR, to combat M23 and RDF.” This coalition of armed groups fighting alongside the Congolese army is known as the Wazalendo, which means patriots in Swahili. The experts who authored the report accused the Wazalendo of numerous violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.

The experts also confirmed “active support” for the M23 from members of the Ugandan intelligence services. This support continues despite Uganda’s army collaborating with the Congolese army in combating another rebel group affiliated with the Daesh group, located approximately 100 kilometers north of the area controlled by the M23.

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