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Rwanda Supported Congo Rebels, UN Experts Say - 2004-07-17

Experts commissioned by the United Nations to investigate violations of a U.N. arms embargo say Rwanda backed rebels, who recently launched an armed uprising in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo.

When dissident army officers General Laurent Nkunda and Colonel Jules Mutebusi launched an uprising in May, attacking and overrunning the army, before seizing the town of Bukavu, Congo's president, Joseph Kabila, accused Rwanda of backing the rebels.

The officers belong to RCD-Goma, a former rebel group that fought alongside Rwandan soldiers in Congo during the country's five-year war. Rwanda maintains that it has withdrawn all its troops and no longer supports the dissidents.

But the U.N. experts' draft report, due to be presented to the Security Council next week, delivers a damning account of Rwanda recruiting, training and sheltering the renegade soldiers, who staged a mutiny that has rocked Congo's peace process, and heightened fears of a renewed regional war.

Such charges amount to flagrant violations of U.N. sanctions and the terms of Congo's fragile peace accord.

The draft report says Rwandan officials rounded up potential fighters in the border town of Cyangugu and promised them mobile phones or $100 to fight with forces loyal to Colonel Mutebutsi and General Nkunda.

The investigators concluded that Rwanda's violations involved direct and indirect support, both in the Democratic Republic of Congo and in Rwanda.

Rwanda says it has disarmed Colonel Mutebusi and 300 of his men. The report says Rwanda has offered the rebels refuge, and that they remain a threat to the Congo.

The experts say they have proof of trucks ferrying weapons into Congo through Ugandan and Rwandan border posts, while satellite images show Rwanda has maintained "semi-fixed positions" in remote parts of Congo's North Kivu province.

A spokesman for the Rwandan army has rejected the charges as "outrageous" and accused its authors of fanning conflict in the region.

Rwanda has invaded its neighbor twice in the past eight years, saying it had an obligation to hunt down Hutu rebels who took part in the country's 1994 genocide and fled to Congo's lawless east.

Congo moved some 13,000 reinforcements to the border region after the Bukavu insurgency. Its army has clashed with General Nkunda's forces in recent days, U.N. and military sources say, and civilians are reported to be fleeing as some 2,000 government soldiers advance.

Congo has repeatedly said it plans an offensive against General Nkunda, but it was unclear whether the latest violence marked the start of the showdown.