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Rwanda leads rebels, UN report says

Report alleges military provides troops, weapons

Police and civilians gathered for an M23 rally Wednesday in Goma, Congo, which the rebel group seized this week.

MELANIE GOUBY/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Police and civilians gathered for an M23 rally Wednesday in Goma, Congo, which the rebel group seized this week.

UNITED NATIONS — The Rwandan military is commanding and supporting the rebel force that overtook a ­major city in eastern Congo this week, a United Nations report released Wednesday said.

Uganda is also providing more subtle but nonetheless decisive backing to the M23 rebels, the report said.

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The report’s release, just one day after the violent takeover of Goma, is sure to increase pressure on the international community to confront the two eastern African countries over their role in neighboring Congo’s conflict. Both Rwanda and Uganda have repeatedly denied supporting the M23 movement and have faced little international criticism over the allegations.

The highly anticipated ­report from the UN Group of Experts said both Rwanda and Uganda have ‘‘cooperated to support the creation and expansion of the political branch of M23 and have consistently advocated on behalf of the rebels. M23 and its allies include six sanctioned individuals, some of whom reside in or regularly travel to Rwanda and Uganda.’’

The document said that Rwanda is funneling weapons, providing troop reinforcements to the M23 rebels, facilitating recruitment, and encouraging desertions from the Congolese armed forces. The de facto chain of command of M23 ends with Rwanda’s defense minister, General James Kabarebe, the report said.

M23 is ‘‘a Rwandan creation,’’ said Steven Hege, a member of the Group of Experts. He said Rwandan soldiers and commanders embedded with M23 take orders from Rwanda, not the rebels.

Hege said the Group of Experts submitted to the Security Council a confidential list of individuals recommended for sanctions, some of them mentioned in the report.

The UN report also accused Uganda of backing the creation and expansion of the M23 rebel group.

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The report puts the UN in an uncomfortable position. Rwanda has been elected by the UN General Assembly to serve a two-year position on the 15-member Security Council beginning in January, which will complicate efforts by the council to come to grips with the country’s intervention in Congo.

The Security Council voted unanimously Tuesday to impose travel bans, assets freezes, and other sanctions on the leaders of M23, and called for an end to external support for the rebellion, but without naming Rwanda or Uganda.

Rwanda’s representative spoke to the council after the vote to deny that his country is involved in the Congolese rebellion. Uganda has previously denied involvement and said it would pull its troops out of UN peacekeeping operations if it were named in the report.

Timothy Longman, director of Boston University’s African Studies Center, said the United States and other countries have been reluctant to confront Rwanda out of lingering sympathy for its 1994 genocide and because the country is considered a successful model for development. He said Rwanda has become a key international player under President Paul Kagame, including supplying troops for the African Union mission in Darfur.

‘‘The international community needs to stop pretending like Kagame is a benign leader and realize that the green light given to his unacceptable behavior in the past is allowing him to get away with literally murder,’’ said Longman, a former director of the Human Rights Watch office in Rwanda.

The United States suspended its military aid — albeit only $200,000 — to Rwanda after parts of the UN preliminary report were leaked last month. Other European countries followed suit, suspending humanitarian aid to Rwanda.

The US Mission to the United Nations did not immediately return a request for comment Wednesday.

The M23 movement, which formed in April when hundreds of troops defected from the Congolese armed forces, now has some 1,250 troops, according to the report. Thousands of Congolese soldiers and policemen defected to M23 Wednesday as rebel leaders vowed to take control of all Congo, including the capital, Kinshasa.

The UN report accuses the M23 commanders of recruiting hundreds of young boys and girls as soldiers and ordering the extrajudicial executions of dozens of recruits and prisoners of war.

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