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Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi have been suspected of military involvement in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where rebels are fighting government troops.
A leaked UN report recently accused Rwanda’s Defence Minister James Kabarebe of being the “de facto” commander of M23 rebels battling DR Congo government forces in eastern Nord-Kivu province. It also accuses Rwanda of breaking an arms embargo to supply M23 with military support, intelligence and weapons.
Rwanda has vehemently denied the allegations, dismissing them as a “determined political campaign opposed to resolving the true causes of the conflict” in eastern DR Congo.
Several major international donors have suspended aid over the claims.
Rwanda sent troops into the DR Congo in 1996 and again in 1998. It has also previously supported various proxies in DR Congo, while normally denying any involvement with them.
From 1996 to 1998, Rwanda backed Laurent Kabila’s rebels as they ousted the late dictator of the then Zaire, Mobutu Sese Seko.
After falling out with Kabila, Rwanda re-invaded Congo in 1998, quickly getting sucked into a second major conflict in the country that lasted until 2003.
In 2001, the United Nations accused Rwanda and its proxies of systematically looting DR Congo’s vast mineral wealth.
In 2008, Rwanda was accused by the United Nations of supporting a rebellion by the Tutsi-led National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), many of whose members are now part of M23.
In 2009, Rwandan forces entered eastern DR Congo with Kinshasa’s permission to fight the Hutu Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) rebel group, made up of some of those responsible for the 1994 genocide in Rwanda of more than 800,000 minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus.
According to the UN report, senior Ugandan officials have “actively supported” the M23. The allegations include claims that Uganda deployed around 600 troops to help the rebels prepare offensives.
Uganda has vehemently denied the accusations, saying Kampala is playing a central role as a regional mediator brokering talks between Kinshasa and the rebels.
In retaliation, Ugandan officials have threatened to withdraw the country’s troops from all international peacekeeping missions.
From 1996 to 1998, Uganda, along with Rwanda, backed Laurent Kabila’s rebels as they ousted Mobutu.
From 1998 to 2003, Uganda became embroiled in DR Congo’s protracted second war — sometimes called Africa’s “Great War” — backing proxy militias and battling former ally Rwanda in the eastern DR Congo city of Kisangani.
The United Nations accused Ugandan commanders of plundering the DR Congo’s mineral wealth, and in 2005 the International Court of Justice ordered Uganda to pay reparations.
In early October this year, a DR Congolese militia fighting government forces in eastern Sud-Kivu province claimed that Burundi government troops were fighting alongside DR Congo army soldiers, which Bujumbura denies.
Bujumbura claims instead that the Burundian rebel National Liberation Forces (FNL) have rear bases in Sud-Kivu.
Burundi nevertheless acknowledged that a Burundian officer was killed there, but said he had been on an official intelligence mission under a military cooperation accord with the DR Congo.
According to the Burundi army, this accord includes joint search operations along the border, with each of the two forces patrolling its own side.
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Uganda/Rwanda: Investigate Journalist’s Murder | Human Rights Watch
Charles Ingabire, editor of the online publication Inyenyeri News and a vocal critic of the Rwandan government, was shot twice in the chest as he was leaving a bar in the Bukesa-Kikoni Makerere area of Kampala late at night. Friends told Human Rights Watch that he frequently went to that bar and had gone there that evening to meet some friends.
A spokesman for the Ugandan police told the media that the police had opened an investigation into Ingabire’s death and that two people were being held for questioning.
“The persecution of government critics can reach beyond Rwanda’s borders,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “We fear for the safety of other exiled journalists and government opponents in the aftermath of Ingabire’s murder.”
The Ugandan police should explore every lead in the search for Ingabire’s killers and intensify protective measures for other Rwandan refugees, Human Rights Watch said.
Ingabire, who was 31 years old, was a survivor of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. He had worked as a journalist in Rwanda, but left in 2007 and obtained refugee status in Uganda. While in Uganda, he contributed to Umuvugizi newspaper, one of Rwanda’s most outspoken publications.
Umuvugiziwas suspended in 2010 by the Media High Council, a Rwandan government-controlled institution. Jean-Léonard Rugambage, another Umuvugizi journalist, was murdered in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, in June 2010. Its editor, Jean-Bosco Gasasira, fled Rwanda in 2010 after numerous threats to his safety.
After the suspension of Umuvugizi, Ingabire became the editor of an online newspaper, Inyenyeri News, which often published articles critical of President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and of the Rwandan government and army. Within a short time, the website appeared to have been infiltrated, and its contents suddenly changed, portraying the government in a favorable light. Ingabire’s friends said they suspected it had been taken over by elements close to the government. Ingabire and his colleagues moved Inyenyeri News to a new web location and it resumed its critical reporting.
Ingabire confided to friends that he had been threatened several times in the months leading up to his death, they told Human Rights Watch. About two months before his murder, he was attacked and beaten in Kampala, and his computer stolen. The assailants – whom he did not recognize – told him they wanted him to close down his website. He also received anonymous telephone death threats warning him to stop writing articles critical of the government.
While it is too early to draw conclusions about the motive for Ingabire’s murder, his death takes place in the context of a well documented pattern of repression of independent journalists, opposition party members, and civil society activists in Rwanda, Human Rights Watch said. Several journalists, critics, and opponents of the government in Rwanda have been arrested and detained or prosecuted in 2010 and 2011, and others outside the country have been threatened repeatedly.
Rwandans living in Uganda are at particular risk, given the geographical proximity and close links between the two countries, Human Rights Watch said. Rwandan refugees in Kampala frequently report being threatened and followed by people they believe are Rwandan intelligence agents.
Attacks on opponents and critics have also taken place further afield. In June 2010, General Kayumba Nyamwasa narrowly escaped an assassination attempt in South Africa. Nyamwasa is a former chief-of-staff of the Rwandan army and was once a close ally of Kagame, but is now an outspoken government opponent in exile. In May, two Rwandans living in the UK were warned by the London Metropolitan Police that there were threats to their safety emanating from the Rwandan government.
“The Rwandan government frequently states its commitment to democracy and free speech,” Bekele said, “but such statements are hollow when critics are threatened and attacked. The Rwandan judicial authorities should cooperate fully with their Ugandan counterparts in unearthing the truth about Ingabire’s murder.”
Despite Rwanda’s and Uganda’s invasions of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) since 1996 and the ensuing deaths, economic collapse, and cost of UN peacekeeping, Western Governments continue to provide significant military and development aid to Rwanda and Uganda. Since aid accounts for the majority of these countries’ official budgets, donors could have had considerable leverage: the threat of aid withdrawal may have provided Rwanda and Uganda with the incentive to cease military operations in the DRC. Given the number of reports by the UN, international NGOs, and the press, it is impossible that donor countries were not aware of the activities being conducted by Rwanda and Uganda in the DRC. With the creation of the International Criminal Court (ICC), a strong case can be made that knowingly giving aid to countries that will use it directly or indirectly to wage wars of aggression, would make donors complicit in war crimes and crimes against humanity. The Alien Tort Claims Act may provide some remedy in American courts.