DR Congo rebels recruited from Rwanda army

Daily News Article   —   Posted on November 20, 2008

Note:  This article is from the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph:

(by David Blair, Telegraph.co.uk) GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo — Rwanda is allowing its territory to be used as a recruiting ground for the rebel movement behind the DR Congo’s latest bloodshed, according to first-hand accounts.

Evidence gathered by The Daily Telegraph contradicts Rwanda’s official denial
of any role in the war in the eastern regions of the Democratic Republic of
Congo, where 250,000 people have endured months of suffering since they were
forced to flee their homes.

Instead, fighters recruited from inside Rwanda’s army have joined General
Laurent Nkunda’s rebels in Congo.

Rwanda is one of Britain’s closest African allies, receiving £46 million of
aid last year. President Paul Kagame appears to be treading a thin line
between officially helping the rebels and turning a blind eye to their use
of Rwandan territory.

A 27-year-old fighter in Gen Nkunda’s movement said that he served as a
platoon commander in Rwanda’s army until last month.

“There are many former Rwandan soldiers with the CNDP [Gen Nkunda’s
rebels]. When I was still in the Rwandan army, I was in touch with them.
They wanted me to join the CNDP,” he said. “I decided to join them
because fighting for the CNDP is like fighting for Rwanda.”

Gen Nkunda’s stated goal is to eliminate the militias who murdered at least
800,000 people in the Rwandan genocide of 1994. These armed groups have
found refuge in eastern Congo and Rwanda has a vital interest in
neutralising them. Hence Rwanda and Gen Nkunda share common aims.

The rebel, who asked to remain anonymous, said that Gen Nkunda needed more
fighters when he launched his offensive in August. Rwandan officers who were
in touch with the rebels quietly conveyed the need for recruits.

Along with seven other Rwandan soldiers, the fighter crossed the Rwinyoni
border post shortly before Gen Nkunda advanced towards Goma, eastern Congo’s
main city, last month.

“We met our friends from the CNDP on the Congo side. They gave us new
uniforms,” said the rebel.

The fighter described himself as a “deserter” from Rwanda’s army and
an “ex-Rwandan soldier”, saying that he destroyed his military
identity card. But he added that Rwandan officers are aware of the flow of
former soldiers over the frontier.

Some are deserters, others have been officially demobilised. But Rwanda’s
highly centralised government has full control over its borders. The
authorities could almost certainly stop this movement of recruits for
Congo’s rebels.

Instead, it has become a long-standing tradition. Another 28-year-old rebel
said that he was demobilised from Rwanda’s army in 2006. He crossed the
border into Congo and joined Gen Nkunda six months later.

“I am a soldier, not a politician,” he said. “I am fighting to
protect our community here in Congo.”

Gen Nkunda has proclaimed himself the protector of the Tutsis in eastern

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The Rwandan Genocide was the 1994 mass killing of hundreds of thousands of Rwanda's Tutsis by Hutu militia. Over the course of approximately 100 days, at least 500,000 people were killed. Most estimates indicate a death toll between 800,000 and 1,000,000.

The Rwandan government has denied that it is offering Mr. Nkunda material help but justifies moral support on grounds that he is opposing Rwandan exiles who fled Rwanda after committing genocide against the Tutsi and their Hutu supporters.

The Rwandan government has said that its aim for backing the rebels in the DRC is to defeat the Hutus who fled there after the Rwandan genocide. However, Rwandan President Paul Kagame has developed huge stakes in the rich mineral resources of eastern Congo. Beginning in 1996, when it helped install Laurent Kabila as president, the relatively small Rwandan nation has integrated its economy with Congo's North and South Kivu provinces. That region sits astride Lake Kivu, one of Africa's Great Lakes, and is one of the richest regions in the world in natural resources. It has an abundance of oil, copper and cobalt. Previously, Rwanda's main moneymaking export was coffee.