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Rwanda: in the line of fire

A United Nations report confirmed last week what one of Congo’s most powerful politicians, Katanga’s Governor Moise Katumbi, has been saying to every foreign delegation: that Rwanda continues to fuel armed conflict in Congo with cash and weapons despite a 2007 agreement to the contrary.

“Why is the international community allowing this? They know trucks full of illegally mined materials cross the border into Rwanda every day, and they turn a blind eye. Why do countries continue to give aid to Rwanda when they know Rwandan authorities are funding the conflict in Congo?” asks Katumbi, spreading the palms of his hands wide open in an outward gesture of exasperation.

“Almost a million people died in Rwanda during the genocide. In Congo it’s been ten years with millions dead (and millions displaced) why don’t we hear anyone talk about that?” he asked in an exclusive interview with Arab News.

A UN human rights worker explains: “Mining, the war and human rights are inextricably linked, we call Katanga an essential organ of Congo, without Katanga, Democratic Republic of Congo could not function and Moise Katumbi controls it. He is credited with reducing corruption in the country.”

Katumbi has a solid reputation for being outspoken and honest, rare qualities in a continent with a history of corrupt leaders willing to sell off their country’s resources in return for kickbacks, according to a foreign mining strategist speaking on condition of anonymity at the Annual Katanga Business Gala hosted at the South African consul general’s home in Lubumbashi.

“Now we have made it essential for companies who want to mine here to also rehabilitate or make schools. Before, our leaders were willing to allow foreign companies to cart off our resources, but we make the companies process the minerals here to create employment for Congolese people, but you don’t hear that. All you hear is about rape and the war, which is a conflict that the international community creates by supporting Rwanda,” said Katumbi.

Katumbi has a proposal for the international community: “They spend so much money on MONUC, the peacekeeping force, but why not put half that money toward paying Congolese soldiers a fair wage? Then they won’t be hungry men who are easy for Nkunda to recruit (with promises of plunder and fat paychecks with which they hope to feed their families). Or maybe they can release Congo from the (crippling) debt we have to pay. If we didn’t have to pay such massive sums in debt, we could pay our soldiers and squash the so called rebellion.”

Rwandan renegade Gen. Laurent Nkunda claims to be fighting to protect Tutsis from Congolese Hutus, leveraging the international community’s guilt over the genocide in Rwanda as a powerful sedative to over zealous objectors.

However, that Nkunda spends more time disemboweling mineral-rich Congo’s countryside than fighting Hutu militias from his perch in a mining town called Bisie is a well-documented fact.

Every conversation between high-ranking government officials poses the same question: “Congo used to be the Number One exporter of Coltrane and now we hear it is Rwanda.

How did that happen overnight? How can we let them create a war to hide that they are stealing minerals from us, and then exporting them? We want the Rwandan troublemakers out. If anyone wants to mine here they must do it legally.”

The report to the UN Security Council “found evidence that the Rwandan authorities have been complicit in the recruitment of soldiers, including children, have facilitated the supply of military equipment, and have sent officers and units from the Rwandan Defense Forces” to support Laurent Nkunda’s National Congress for the Defense of the People.

Part of that evidence are e-mails written by Rwandan President Paul Kagame’s adviser Tribert Rujugiro Ayabatwa that expose his involvement in aiding Nkunda’s troops.

In one such e-mail that the UN Security Council examined, Rujugiro thanked a Dubai- based employee for facilitating a payment of “$120,000 to cover the salaries of the soldiers for our friend, Laurent N.” Another official document shows Rujugiro granting Nkunda the use of one his many farms around the disputed East Congo/Kivu region for the general’s army. Rwanda has slammed the report as “vendetta,” claiming it is full of “inaccuracies.” For Joseph Kabila’s administration in Kinshasa, perhaps the most controversial claim by the report will be the assertion that it may not be in the interest of his government to “end the conflict in eastern DRC as long as their units are able to deploy to, and profit from, mining areas,” the report said.

The report also cited “extensive collaboration” between Congolese government troops and rebel groups in the country’s North Kivu province that fight against Nkunda.

Groups, including the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, or FDLR, are getting government support.

The FDLR does a lucrative trade in the illegal mining of resources including tin and gold, according to the report.

The minerals are sold to international companies including refiners via Congolese exporters, according to the report written by a group of experts appointed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to monitor UN sanctions against Congo.

Five experts spent 12 weeks in conflict-ridden eastern Congo from mid-August onwards. They examined illegal arms shipments, the effectiveness of UN travel and financial sanctions and the link between natural resources and financing of armed groups in the region.

Article: Fatima Najm

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