U.N. Fails to Halt Congo Rebels: Experts

U.N. backing for Congolese army operations in the east has failed to stamp out Rwandan rebels, the United Nations' own experts said on Wednesday.

Far from resolving the root causes of the violence, the operations backed by the world's biggest peacekeeping mission have aggravated the conflict in North and South Kivu provinces, a U.N. Group of Experts report seen by Reuters concluded.

"Military operations have ... not succeeded in neutralizing the FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda), have exacerbated the humanitarian crisis in the Kivus and have resulted in an expansion of CNDP military influence in the region," it said of homegrown Congolese Tutsi CNDP insurgents.

Congo's army, backed by the U.N. force of around 20,000, began an offensive against the FDLR this year in a deal to boost ties with neighboring Rwanda, its enemy during a 1998-2003 war.

The U.N. this month suspended support to those army units it believed were responsible for killing 60 civilians in operations against local militias, but defended the overall strategy.

The report noted "the possible contradiction within MONUC's mandate to protect civilians on a priority basis, and that of providing logistic support to the (army), while the latter continues to commit abuses against the civilian population."

While the U.N. Security Council has twice voted to continue support for the Congolese operations, rights groups and aid agencies have decried the displacement of more than a million villagers, thousands of rapes, and hundreds of killings.

The Council is due to debate the report, widely leaked to media, later on Wednesday.

A spokesman for MONUC, the U.N.'s Congo mission, declined comment at a regular news briefing in Kinshasa, saying he had not yet seen its findings.

Support Networks

Despite the surrender of more than 1,200 of its estimated 6,000-to-8,000 fighters, the FDLR continues to replenish its ranks through the active recruitment of both Congolese and Rwandan Hutus, the report said.

They also benefit from support networks in Africa, Europe and North America, as well as financing from their control of the east's lucrative tin deposits despite the army's efforts to push them out of mining areas.

"The Group calculates that the FDLR could earn at least several hundred thousand dollars and up to a few million dollars a year from this trade," said the report, noting ex-CNDP units had also taken advantage of operations to seize tin mines.

It concluded they could also earn millions of dollars by smuggling large quantities of gold through neighboring Uganda and Burundi and onto dealers in the United Arab Emirates, often with the connivance of local officials.

The most aggressive operations against the FDLR have been spearheaded by hastily integrated former CNDP units, some of which are under the command of General Bosco Ntaganda, who is wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court.

Officials from MONUC have repeatedly denied Ntaganda's involvement in the operations, which it is backing with logistical and operational support including helicopter firepower.

However, the group found that Ntaganda had ordered troop deployments, has established a parallel taxation scheme in CNDP-controlled areas taking in $250,000 per month and has centralized control of hidden weapons caches.

[Source: The New York Times, Reuters, Kinshasa, Congo, 25Nov09]

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