One of Africa’s most brutal rebel movements relies on a vast, international network of supporters in at least 25 countries, including the United States and some in Europe, a United Nations report said.
The U.N. findings show that the network of people help rebels in Congo buy arms and transfer money. The findings were slated to be discussed by the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday and are a scathing indictment of how little the international community has done to cut off logistical support to the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, known by its French acronym FDLR, an ethnic Hutu militia which has wreaked havoc in Congo.
The report, which was not made public but was made available to The Associated Press, reveals that supporters in North America, Europe and Africa have become the backbone of the group’s day-to-day operations, including in formulating its military strategy.
The Congolese army has also been funneling weapons and ammunition to the rebel militia in violation of U.N. sanctions, and its own interests of eradicating the group, according to the report, a charge Congolese army officials denied.
“There is no army officer or soldier who’s helping and arming rebels,” said Col. Delphin Kahimbi. “I don’t understand how you can help the same people we are fighting.”
The report also says the military operation mounted earlier this year against rebel group has largely failed. Although the militia was initially dislodged from strategic positions, they have since regained much of the lost territory and have launched reprisal attacks against civilians.
The U.N. Security Council met in a closed-door session Wednesday for a briefing by its sanctions committee on Congo but members did not take up the report, said U.N. associate spokesman Farhan Haq. They are likely to discuss it on Monday, he said, but an official involved in the debate says that council members are trying to table the discussion because the findings include evidence of material support to the rebel group by member states.
The report says the rebel group continues to control lucrative gold mines in eastern Congo, allowing them to traffic millions of dollars in minerals through the country’s porous borders.
The FDLR is a rebel group made-up of Hutu refugees from Rwanda who took cover in neighboring Congo after the end of Rwanda’s 1994 genocide of over a million Tutsis. Many of the FDLR’s founders and several of their current leaders are accused of having led the genocide.
U.N. investigators analyzed telephone logs of senior militia commanders, showing regular contact with individuals, charity groups and government officials in at least 25 countries, mostly in Europe but also in the United States.
While previous reports have indicated that the Hutu militia’s main source of funding is its control of Congo’s mineral riches, the U.N. report argues that the FDLR’s international network living abroad is a critical source of support.
The U.N. found evidence that the group’s Germany-based president Ignace Murwanashyaka was helping negotiate arms shipments as well as organizing Western Union money transfers to commanders in the field. The report says he was also managing large sums of money raised through the illicit sale of natural resources in areas under the control of the FDLR and wired to Germany from a minerals trading house in the Congolese town of Bukavu.
The 46-year-old chairman of the rebel army was arrested in Germany earlier this month. He had been on a U.N. sanctions list for his rebel activities. Despite the sanctions, investigators found that Murwanashyaka continued to funnel money to his colleagues through other Hutu refugees in Germany.
“Here is a group that was allowed to grow after the genocide. Nothing happened to them,” said Gregory Alex, a senior U.N. official who was in Rwanda in 1994 and now heads a U.N. team in Congo charged with trying to disarm FDLR rebels. “Compare them to the Nazis. Somebody stopped their continuation. Many were captured and punished. But with the FDLR, nothing happened until two weeks ago,” he said, referring to Murwanashyaka’s arrest.
The logs show that prior to his arrest, Murwanashyaka had made more than 240 calls to satellite phones used by FDLR field commanders, including numerous calls to the telephone of Gen. Sylvestre Muducumura, the rebel movement’s army chief in eastern Congo.
FDLR deserters told the U.N. investigators that Muducumura does not carry out any major military operation without first consulting the group’s Germany-based chairman.
In one particularly horrific attack in May, the villagers of Busurungi were attacked by FDLR rebels. Women were gang-raped by soldiers and then hacked to pieces with machetes, according to U.S.-based Human Rights Watch.
The phone logs show that just before and just after the massacre, there was a flurry of calls between phones used by top FDLR cadres, including 14 calls to Murwanashyaka’s numbers in Germany. He received a text message on May 11 from Mudacumura’s number coinciding with the end of the massacre.
Besides Germany, the telephone logs indicated that the most frequent contact between the satellite phones used by top FDLR commanders was with five other countries, including Belgium and France.
The report says investigators found 21 phone numbers in France that had been in regular contact with FDLR military satellite phones over the past year. France, the report says, did not respond to the U.N.’s frequent requests for details on these numbers. French officials could not be immediately reached for comment Wednesday.
In the United States, a New Jersey-based supporter has been making Western Union money transfers to a Congo-based liaison officer of RUD, a splinter group allied with the FDLR. The U.N. also traced contacts and money transfers to Catholic charities in Spain and telephone calls between FDLR commanders and government officials in Tanzania and Burundi, two countries neighboring eastern Congo.