Rwanda rebel leaders: US, French, Spanish, and Congo business links

Leaked UN report shows FDLR, a brutal Rwandan rebel group operating in eastern Congo, operates gold, tin, and coltran mines. Key leaders still free in the US and France.

Rebecca Blackwell/AP
United Nations peacekeepers, right, pass near a Rwandan Hutu FLDR rebel, left, as they patrol near a UN encampment in the heart of territory held by the rebels near the village of Kimua, eastern Congo, Oct. 2.

A leaked United Nations report on a shadowy Congolese rebel group may do what neither the Rwandan nor the Congolese militaries were able to do with their massive military joint operation: cut the rebels off from their foreign supporters and bring to an end their brutal uprising

The leaked report, seen by the Monitor, was produced by the so-called UN "Group of Experts" and offers an inside look into how the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and its allied groups have been able to get funding for their operations in the eastern regions of the Democratic Republic of Congo for the past decade. It reveals a network of gold traders, arms merchants, and even faith-based organizations that have kept the violent rebel group supplied with food, arms, and political support.

The arrest last week of FDLR leader Ignace Murwanashyaka and his deputy by German police shows that the UN report has already begun to have ripple effects, with the potential of dismantling the FDLR rebel organization all the way back into the Congolese jungle.

"This is very important," says Guillaume Lacaille, a former political officer for the United Nations Mission in Congo (MONUC) and now an analyst (in Kenya) for the Brussels-based International Crisis Group. "MONUC has reacted very quickly to sensitize the ground-level troops of the FDLR, telling them, 'You know that the international community considers your group to be a terrorist organization, and they have already arrested your leaders. Your political agenda will never be accepted by the international community, so why are you still fighting in Congo?'"

The UN Group of Experts conducted its investigation over the past year by using everything from phone records of top FDLR officials to the testimony of arms merchants and minerals traders operating in Congo and throughout the region. The group's report shows the outlines of a rebel organization that started out with the aim of defending the interests of Rwandan and Congolese ethnic Hutus against the Tutsi-led Rwandan government, and ended up a lucrative business operation, controlling vast mineral-rich territories in Congo that kept its small army of 6,000 fighters armed and fed.

The report identifies and locates the FDLR's leadership, starting with Mr. Murwanashyaka and his deputy, Straton Musoni, on down to the French-based FDLR secretary-general Callixte Mbarushimana and two top FDLR leaders based in the United States, Jean Marie Vianney Higiro and Felicien Kanyamibwa. The report also finds that these FDLR leaders not only served political roles, but in the case of Murwanishyaka, Musoni, and Mbarushimana, also served as military commanders, coordinating the military attacks of ground troops in Congo, and arranging the influx of armaments from neighboring states and from as far away as North Korea.

Gold, tin, and coltan business

In painstaking detail, the UN report shows how FDLR commanders used their control of gold, tin, and coltan mines in the eastern Congo to amass substantial wealth. They worked through a series of smugglers and minerals traders from Europe, Tanzania, Uganda, and Burundi to get the minerals to market. The report also details arms shipments that brazenly broke a UN arms embargo for the DRC. The reports shows that arms purchases were negotiated by top FDLR officials and traces them to specific FDLR commanders.

"Efforts to uproot the group whose members are accused for masterminding the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda have failed largely due to the FDLR's ability to fund its campaigns through the illegal international mineral trade," the UN report says.

Charities, too?

The report also mentions a collection of faith-based charities based in Spain – including individuals associated with Fundació S'Olivar and Inshuti – for taking donations that were used to support the FDLR.

Pro-FDLR activists from these two charities in Spain last year filed a suit that prompted Spanish courts to open a case against serving members of the current Rwandan government, alleging that it was the armed movement of President Paul Kagame who bears the ultimate responsibility for the 1994 Rwandan genocide, and not the extremist Hutu militias who eventually made up the rank and file of the FDLR.

The Fundacio S'Olivar is funded by the local Balearic Island government, which has denied funding any armed groups.

Mr. Lacaille says that the UN report may see its greatest effect if it pressures both France and the United States to follow Germany's lead and arrest FDLR activists named in the report for funding and leading what is in effect a terrorist organization.

"The next step is to see France do something about Callixte [Mbarushimana]," says Lacaille. "And I hope that North America will do something about the FDLR leaders on their soil too. Because when you go against the genocidaires of 1994, you are doing it because of justice. When you go against someone like Ignace Murwanashyaka, it's not only justice, it's about security in the Democratic Republic of Congo."

Germany arrests Congo rebel leaders

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