UN report accuses Rwandan, Ugandan troops of fighting with M23 rebels in eastern DR Congo

UN report accuses Rwandan, Ugandan troops of fighting with M23 rebels in eastern DR Congo

As many as 4,000 Rwandan soldiers were reportedly fighting battles alongside the M23 rebels in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), with Kigali exercising significant control over the rebel group’s operations, according to a recent report commissioned by the UN Security Council.

The UN experts say Uganda is also backing M23 rebels fighting across its border in eastern DRC, warning that a rapidly escalating crisis “carried the risk of triggering a wider regional conflict”.

“Since the resurgence of the M23 crisis, Uganda has not prevented the presence of M23 and Rwanda Defence Forces (RDF) troops on its territory or passage through it,” the U.N. Security Council’s Group of Experts said in the report.

The well-armed M23 is often accused of being a Rwandan proxy force, but the UN experts have put forward evidence to suggest that it also has Uganda’s support.

The Rwandan soldiers with high-tech weaponry have secretly crossed the border into the DRC to join fighting on M23’s side, fueling a vast humanitarian catastrophe across the region, the new 296-page report by the UN-appointed group of experts reveals.

The M23 (March 23 Movement) insurgency in the North Kivu province adds to a long list of security troubles in eastern DRC, where more than 100 armed groups are active. The UN report accuses Rwanda of having deployed an arsenal of advanced weapons in the troubled region, including surface-to-air missiles and drone-borne mortar weapons, damaging a Congolese airplane and forcing the Congolese military to ground all its air assets, which allowed the Rwandan and M23 forces to “reorganize and reinforce”.

In recent months, the European Union, the United States, France, Belgium and other Western governments have repeatedly called for Rwanda to withdraw its troops and stop supporting the M23 rebellion. However, the government in Kigali has never confirmed the presence of its troops on Congolese territory.

Like Rwanda, Uganda denied involvement, saying it is cooperating closely with the Congolese government forces.

A military force comprised of soldiers from several southern African countries has arrived in eastern DRC this year, seeking to help the Congolese military in pushing back the Rwandan forces, but Kigali lobbied heavily against the deployment. The M23 group has seized large swathes of territory in the region and installed a parallel regime in areas now under its control. The conflict has displaced 700,000 people this year, while over 5.5 million are displaced overall – the third highest figure in the world in 2021.

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