Friday, September 07, 2007

United Nations Accuses Rwandan Government of Arming Rebel Leader in Eastern DRC

UN accuses Rwanda of arming Congo rebel leader

By Chris McGreal

Sep. 6- Rwanda is supplying a rebel Tutsi general in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo with ammunition and fighters as he seizes control of parts of the region and attacks government forces, according to UN security officials.

General Laurent Nkunda's troops have occupied an area along the border with Rwanda and Uganda. Men and equipment have been observed crossing into Congo, which has already suffered from a decade of war during which about 4 million people have died.

UN officials said Gen. Nkunda's forces appeared to be strengthening their control around the border to secure their supply lines. They have also moved their families to the area.

Gen. Nkunda has also attacked the areas around three towns east of the regional capital, Goma, but the army said it had killed more than 50 of his men in a helicopter gunship assault on Sept. 4.

The general broke away from the national army last week, nine months after his forces were integrated into it, after accusing the government of collaborating with Hutu extremists responsible for the 1994 genocide of Tutsis in Rwanda who then fled into Congo.

His forces in Rutshuru, 45 miles north of Goma, left their headquarters there this week, destroying power lines and mobile phone transmitters on the way, and moved into the Virunga national park and towards the border area. They also seized the transmitters of a local radio station. There were also security reports saying that the Hutu militia, the FDLR, and the Congolese Mai Mai militia were fighting with government troops against Gen. Nkunda's forces.

The UN has helped the government to fly in additional troops and ammunition to North Kivu, in part to defend Goma.

Some of the fighting appeared to occur as mixed units of soldiers loyal to the government and those under Gen. Nkunda's command separated themselves.

Gen. Nkunda said at the weekend that he was in a "state of war" with the government in defense of eastern Congo's Tutsi population. But the government in Kinshasa believes he is a proxy for Rwanda, which it says is intent on maintaining instability in the east of the country where it has financial interests in illegal mining and because it wishes to retain control along its border to keep Hutu extremists at bay.

Rwanda has denied providing direct support for Gen. Nkunda but in the 1990s it twice invaded Congo to attack Hutu extremists and has since demanded that Kinshasa deal with the FDLR.

Rwanda's foreign minister, Charles Murigande, was snubbed by Congo's president, Joseph Kabila, during a rare visit to Kinshasa this week.

Aya Shneerson, the head of the World Food Program in the region, said thousands of people had been forced from their homes by the renewed conflict.

"There's an overwhelming movement of people all over North Kivu province with new [refugee] sites created almost every day. We estimate that the new fighting has displaced over 30,000 people on top of the 200,000 displaced by fighting in February. These people are constantly on the move and they're very vulnerable," she said.

Source: Guardian (UK)

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