A United Nations report on the Democratic Republic of Congo has omitted reference to findings of the U.N.’s own investigators that high-ranking Rwandan officials are backing an army mutiny in Congo’s volatile east.
Diplomats have accused the United States of seeking to delay publication of the findings by the U.N. Group of Experts to give neighboring Rwanda time to formulate a response.
In a closed door briefing to the U.N. sanctions committee earlier this month, the Group of Experts verbally presented evidence to show Rwandan Defence Minister James Kaberebe was in constant contact with Congolese rebels led by renegade general Bosco Ntaganda, according to leaked notes seen by Reuters.
Other top officials including the head of the Rwandan army, Charles Kayonga, and a security adviser to President Paul Kagame were cited by investigators as being “directly implicated” in supporting Ntaganda, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes.
Rwanda has a history of supporting rebel groups in its vast and unstable neighbor, but it has strenuously denied accusations that it backs the so-called M23 rebellion.
The allegations of Rwandan support risk sparking a diplomatic firestorm as Rwanda bids for a seat on the U.N.’s Security Council. Rwanda’s foreign minister is due to hold a press conference in New York on Monday.
The wrangling could spell the end of a strained three-year diplomatic truce between Congo and Rwanda seen as critical to maintaining a fragile stability in the region after nearly two decades of conflict.
The rebellion has seen hundreds of defectors from the army battling government troops in Congo’s eastern hills near the Rwandan border, forcing more than 200,000 people to flee their homes since April.
Diplomats in New York say the authors of the report have come under intense pressure to delay publication of the allegations until Rwanda has had a chance to respond.
Officials from the United States – a longtime ally of President Kagame – have denied accusations from the Congolese government and rights groups that they are blocking disclosure. The officials say they want more time to consider the information.
The 50-page interim report, released on Friday, makes no reference to Rwandan backing for the M23 mutineers – but the introductory note said more information was expected to follow.
“The Group of Experts intends to transmit to the Security Council…an addendum to the interim report in due course.”
The Group of Experts could not be immediately reached for comments on why Rwanda’s role was left out of the report.
Congo has already said its own investigations show the mutineers have received support from across the border, but has stopped short of publicly blaming Kigali.
Earlier this week Kagame accused the international community of blaming Congo’s instability on Rwanda and told the Congolese to take responsibility for what he said were internal problems.
Ntaganda and thousands of fighters from the Rwandan-backed CNDP rebel group were integrated into the Congolese army in 2009, but are still powerful in eastern Kivu provinces.
The Group of Experts found the mutiny had been planned since Congo’s controversial presidential election last November, won by President Joseph Kabila despite allegations of fraud.
“Ex-CNDP commanders had anticipated that after securing President Kabila’s re-election, there would be renewed efforts to deploy them outside the Kivus,” the report stated, adding that the mutiny had been funded using embezzled army salaries and the profits of a series of bank raids.
The group spoke to witnesses who said the mutiny was being jointly commanded by Ntaganda and Colonel Sultani Makenga, despite repeated denials from the M23 that they are allied to Ntaganda, known by his nickname “The Terminator”.
The report also uncovered links between the rebels and a splinter faction from the Rwandan FDLR rebel group which operates in eastern Congo.
Rwanda has repeatedly justified its support of armed groups in Congo, including the CNDP, by the need to tackle the FDLR threat, although some analysts have said this is a cover for maintaining its political and economic interests in the region.