Uganda backed M23 in DRC, Rwanda’s ‘de facto control’ on group- UN experts

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The Ugandan army has provided support to the M23 rebel group operating in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), says a United Nations report as clashes escalate in the mineral-rich region.

The UN Security Council’s group of experts on Monday also said some 3,000-4,000 Rwandan soldiers fought alongside M23 rebels in eastern DRC and that Kigali had “de facto control” of the group’s operations.

The DRC has been riven by conflict for decades. Uganda and Rwanda invaded in 1996 and 1998 for what they said was defence against local militia groups.

Uganda is still conducting joint operations with the DRC troops against a rebel Ugandan group. Meanwhile, M23 fighters began waging a fresh rebellion in the eastern DRC in late 2021.

Ugandan troops were part of a regional force deployed in November 2022 to monitor a ceasefire with the M23. Congolese authorities called for the force to withdraw last year, saying it was ineffective.

“Since the resurgence of the M23 crisis, Uganda has not prevented the presence of M23 and Rwanda Defence Force (RDF) troops on its territory or passage through it,” said the UN report, which was sent to the UN Security Council Sanctions Committee in April and to members of the Security Council in June.

The UN group also said it had obtained evidence confirming active support for M23 by officials from the military and military intelligence, with M23 leaders travelling to Uganda for meetings.

The deputy spokesman for Uganda’s armed forces, Deo Akiiki, told Reuters news agency such reports falsely accuse the East African country’s army when its relationship with the DRC forces is at its best.

“It would be mad for us to destabilise the same area we are sacrificing it all to have it stable,” Akiiki said.

DRC-Rwanda tensions

The UN has long accused Rwanda of backing the M23, which has repeatedly seized large parts of eastern DRC. Rwanda denies the allegations and has never acknowledged its troops are operating there.

The UN experts in their report said Rwandan army’s “de facto control and direction over M23 operations also renders Rwanda liable for the actions of M23”.

Therese Kayikwamba Wagner, the DRC’s minister of state for foreign affairs, also told Al Jazeera on Monday that the situation in the country’s east had deteriorated over the past few weeks and accused the Rwandan army of continuing to enter their territory.

“The situation that we’re looking at is one where we’re facing an influx of soldiers from our neighbouring country Rwanda, that has sent over 4,000 troops, that have fuelled a massive displacement crisis in eastern DRC,” she said.

“The question we should be asking ourselves is why Rwanda is not being sanctioned for violation of our territory,” Wagner added.

In response to the UN report, Rwanda said the DRC was financing and fighting alongside a Hutu rebel group, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), that has attacked the Tutsis in both countries.

“The DRC has all the power to de-escalate the situation if they want to, but until then Rwanda will continue to defend itself,” Rwanda government spokesperson Yolande Makolo said.

The renewed fighting in eastern DRC came two days after a United States-brokered truce plan fell through. The truce was aimed to ease hostilities, allow for the voluntary return of displaced people, and provide humanitarian access to vulnerable people.

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