Rwanda’s Secret War
November 26, 2004, television stations in Kinshasa, the capital
of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), began broadcasting alerts
that a Rwandan invasion was underway. This followed days of repeated
threats by President Paul Kagame to attack Hutu rebels based in
the eastern DRC. Belgian and U.S. military sources in Kinshasa said
that at least five battalions (1,500-3,000 troops) had penetrated
the provinces of North and South Kivu from 5 different points. “This
is a sizeable advance force for the Rwandan army,” said one
military source in Kinshasa.
Rwanda’s government continuing to deny their invasion, some
6,000 Rwandan troops had reportedly penetrated eastern DRC by December
4, making this tiny Rwanda’s third major invasion of its huge
neighbor to the west.
to the DRC government, troops of the Armed Forces for the Democratic
Republic of Congo (FARDC) had clashed with Rwandan Defense Forces
(RDF) at numerous locations by early December. The
newspaper in Uganda reported December 6 that RDF troops passing
illegally through Ugandan frontier areas had also clashed with Ugandan
reported thousands of Congolese refu-
gees fleeing into Uganda.
to IRIN, news network of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian
Affairs, thousands of Congolese civilians were fleeing North Kivu
province as of December 6, with civilians claiming executions and
massacres as RDF troops burned and looted everything in their path.
NGO staff in the region are bracing for the flood of tens of thousands
of internally displaced persons.
claims were echoed by Rwandan guerrilla groups based in the DRC.
“According to our sources five Rwandan battalions are already
in the DRC ready to create chaos,” reported Jean-Marie Higiro,
former leader of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda
(FDLR). “Kagame’s regime maintains its sponsorship to
rebel DRC forces. Under all kinds of tricks, Kagame’s regime
is able to continue to pull the strings in the DRC.”
rejected claims that the Rwandan military is acting in self-defense.
“Rwanda and its proxy armies in the DRC maintain an absolute
cordon sanitaire at the Rwandan-Congolese border,” Higiro says.
“How can Hutu rebels break through this cordon sanitaire and
strike Rwanda, then retreat into the DRC without being intercepted?”
alleges that powerful interests in Washington had, as early as 1989,
delineated the now-apparent Tutsi strategy of annexation of the
eastern DRC and that there is a very powerful Tutsi lobby in Washington,
latest bid to annex the DRC’s Kivu provinces was called the
“Third War of Occupation of Eastern Congo” by Congolese
students who took to the streets of Kisangani in protest on December
4. Despite Rwanda’s official denials of aggression, Rwandan
leaders had issued unambiguous warnings in recent days. “You
have to make war to have peace,” Rwanda’s President Paul
Kagame told United Nations Observer’s Mission In Congo (MONUC)
peacekeeping forces on November 23. “We are preparing to return
our forces to the DRC,” Rwanda’s regional cooperation
minister, Protais Mitali, said on the 25th, according to Reuters.
“We cannot watch as these extremist forces advance onto our
correspondent David Lewis in Kinshasa reported on November 26 that
the Congolese army told the United Nations that its soldiers had
clashed with Rwandan troops inside the DRC, although UN peacekeepers
found no signs of any fighting, according to Lewis’s UN sources.
Lewis also reported that clashes had taken place earlier in the
Kinshasa, long-time Mobutu opposition party leader Etienne Tshisekedi
from the Union for Democracy and Social Progress issued a communiqué
warning that if Rwanda had again invaded the DRC, then the Congolese
people must demonstrate against the UN Mission. May and June 2004
saw major demonstrations across the DRC where MONUC vehicles and
homes rented by MONUC personnel were destroyed in protest of MONUCs
perceived failure to defend the city of Goma from the invading forces
of pro-Rwandan rebel groups in Congo. There are no U.S. military
with the MONUC force in DRC.
and Ugandan guerrilla groups continue to maintain a destabilizing
presence in the eastern DRC, including the ex-Force Armee Rwandais
(ex-FAR, the former Rwandan army), Interahamwe (the militia largely
responsible for the 1994 genocide), Allied Democratic Forces for
Uganda (ADF), and the People’s Redemption Army (PRA). The DRC
government and international community have failed to implement
the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) process
called for by international peace accords.
has repeatedly threatened to invade the DRC to attack Hutu rebels
accused of genocide—Interahamwe and ex-FAR. The “genocidiares”
fled Rwanda in 1994 and established themselves in Hutu refugee camps
in eastern Zaire (as DRC was then known) with the help of the French
intervention force Operation Tourquoise and support from Zaire’s
32-year dictator, Mobutu Sese Seko. Rwanda also claimed that it
must defend the Banyamulenge—Congolese Tutsis—from the
entered the DRC in 1999 after peace agreements signed in Lusaka,
peace accords in Sun City, South Africa and negotiations with rebels
and militias in the eastern DRC ushered in a peace process under
a transitional power-sharing government, implementing a joint UN/DRC
program of DDR, and the promise of elections in 2005.
disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration program has largely
been an empty promise. The DRC was formally cited at the UN Security
Council on November 23 for its lack of cooperation in the arrest
of people accused of taking part in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.
In a UN press statement, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal
Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), Hassan Bubacar Jallow from Gambia, told
the Security Council that 14 indicted people were still at large
and “the bulk of the fugitives continued to be based in the
Democratic Republic of Congo.” The press release stated that
the U.S. ambassador to the UN, John Danforth, called n the DRC and
Kenya to arrest fugitives accused of inciting conflicts in the Great
Lakes region on the border of DRC and Rwanda.
for government soldiers and guerrillas alike remains endemic in
the eastern DRC provinces of Orientale, Equateur, and the Kivus.
According to a recent alert by Survivor’s Rights International,
reports from isolated areas across the country indicate that populations
continue to suffer wholesale extortion, racketeering, theft, rape,
and other violence.
groups accused all sides of exploiting ethnic conflict in the region.
“Relations between the Banyamulenge and other Congolese groups
have been strained and are frequently manipulated by politicians
in both Rwanda and the DRC,” wrote Human Rights Watch in a
June 2004 report, “War Crimes in Bukavu.” “The past
six years of war have contributed to hostility against them as they
are increasingly identified as ‘Rwandan’ by other Congolese.
Rwanda has often justified its presence in DRC in part as an effort
to protect the Banyamulenge people, though this was challenged in
2002 when they attacked the Banya- mulenge homelands killing scores
of Banyamulenge civilians, shooting some of them from Rwandan helicopters.”
a bold article that caught major international press on December
4, BBC journalist Robert Walker, who overflew the North Kivu region
in a MONUC helicopter, reported that “President Kabila is getting
away with a crime” because the DRC government was fabricating
reports of war and Rwandan involvement in eastern DRC. However,
by December 20, 2004, UNICEF was reporting “millions displaced
by recent fighting.”
Central Africa’s Ongoing Genocide
Kagame’s Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA) invaded Rwanda
from Uganda in 1990, launching a four-year campaign of guerrilla
warfare. Open support for Rwanda’s then-Hutu-led government
from French paratroopers failed to prevent the RPA victory of August
1994, following the coordinated genocide of hundreds of thousands
of Rwandan Tutsis by hard-line Hutus (FAR) and affiliated Interahamwe
(Hutu) militias from April to July.
such as Wayne Madsen, author of
Genocide and Covert Operations
in Africa 1993-1999
, assert that Kagame and the RPA orchestrated
the April 6, 1994 assassination of the presidents of Rwanda and
Burundi—shooting down their plane on its approach to Kigali
airport with SAM-7 surface-to-air missiles taken from Iraq by France
in 1991, then delivered by the U.S. military to Uganda, the base
for RPA guerrilla operations against Rwanda prior to 1994.
was provided at a special hearing held by then Congressperson Cynthia
McKinney at the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, DC
on April 6, 2001, the seventh anniversary of the assassinations.
Journalist Charles Onana of Cameroon, author of
The Secrets of
the Rwandan Genocide
, also aired claims of RPA involvement in
the incident and was sued for defamation by Paul Kagame. A Paris
court found in favor of Onana. Defense attorneys working at the
International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda (ICTR) maintain that the
standard figure of 800,000 Tutsis killed in the 1994 genocide is
grossly inflated. At least three major films continue to circulate
in the U.S., all furthering the pro-RPA and pro-Tutsi perspective
of the Hutu genocide.
Kagame, who was trained by the U.S. military at Fort Leavenworth,
Kansas, has been a regular visitor at Harvard University, the James
Baker III Institute in Houston, Texas, the White House, and the
Pentagon. U.S., European, and South African military interests have
continued to support various factions in Central Africa, arming
militias and rebel groups through proxy armies from Uganda, Rwanda,
Burundi, and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) in south
Sudan. France’s presence in Central Africa is based out of
Gabon, the major point of French miltary penetration on the continent.
continued in Rwanda under the new RPA government of Paul Kagame,
with Amnesty International documenting a pattern of assassinations,
arbitrary imprisonment, and “disappearances.” Nearly all
political opponents—Tutsi or Hutu—have been labeled “genocidiares”
and Amnesty International has protested that some trials and executions
of accused genocidiare collaborators have been tainted and politically-motivated.
first Rwandan invasion of its huge neighbor to the west occurred
in 1996. According to the influential “Africa Confidential”
newsletter, Major Gen. Paul Kagame visited the Pentagon in August
1996, conferring with Washington prior to launching a grand plan
to unseat Mobutu Sese Seko. While the U.S. public was consumed with
the 1996 presidential elections, Rwanda was preparing its war against
Zaire. It began with the shelling of Hutu refugee camps in eastern
Congo with Katusha missiles, killing non-combatants.
joined with the Ugandan People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) and
the guerrilla army of Laurent Kabila’s Alliance of Democratic
Forces for the Liberation of Congo (ADFL) in the “war of liberation”
that subsequently ended long reign of President Mobutu Sese Seko
in Congo (Zaire). Sources in the DRC quickly add that U.S. military
personnel were seen advising the joint UPDF/RPA invasion which swiftly
moved across the vast forested territory of Zaire.
generals were reportedly contacted in advance by high-level U.S.
officials in the region; most of those who agreed to support the
U.S. invasion remain in high posts in the DRC today; other
of Mobutu’s highest military were sacrificed one way or another.
Madsen reported that the U.S. established major communications and
listening stations in Uganda’s Ruwenzori Mountains. Witnesses
interviewed in Kampala, Uganda’s capital, support this claim.
Communications equipment was also seen on Idjwe Island in Lake Kivu,
on the DRC-Rwanda frontier.
interviews with survivors across the country document crimes against
humanity and acts of genocide committed against Congolese civilians
by all sides in the ensuing war. “In May 1997, hundreds of
unarmed Hutu refugees were massacred in the town of Mbandaka by
soldiers of Kabila’s Alliance of Democratic Forces for the
Liberation of Congo (ADFL), operating under apparent Rwandan Army
(RPA) command,” wrote Human Rights Watch in June 1998. In an
October 1997 report (“What Kabila is Hiding: Civilian Killings
and Impunity in Congo”), Human Rights Watch concluded that
“Rwandan troops had a role in some of the killings of Rwandan
Hutu refugees on Zairean territory.”
of Hutu refugees were slaughtered in Mbandaka in May 1997, on the
day that the AFDL arrived there. One eyewitness told this reporter:
“We ran down to the beach [port] because we heard the shooting.
I saw two people shot but there were bodies all lined up on the
beach. The soldiers were also throwing dead bodies in the [Congo]
river. There were a lot of Tutsi soldiers, but we couldn’t
distinguish. I saw soldiers question one woman. The woman was not
able to talk in [Congolese] Lingala. He said, ‘Yes, you are
among the Rwandais Hutus. Turn, face the river, pray to your God,
because you are about to meet your God.’ Then he shot her in
the back with an automatic weapon.”
special forces were involved,” asserted one DRC army captain
interviewed recently in Kinshasa. The AFDL forces included UPDF,
RPA, and U.S. military advisers, he claimed.
James Kabarebe, now Chief of Staff of the Rwanda Defense Forces,
is said to have led the campaign to annihilate fleeing Hutu refugees.
Kabarebe has been sited in UN reports for massive violations in
Ituri. “Kabarebe was reportedly the biggest advocate of Rwandan
support to [ethnic] militias,” wrote UN investigators in the
MONUC “Special Report on Events in Ituri,” January 2002-December
2003. Rwanda armed, trained, and advised militias in Ituri, as it
had in North and South Kivu provinces, the report found. The Ugandan
military was similarly cited for atrocities.
RPA joined with the UPDF to invade DRC again in 1998 after ADFL
leader, Laurent Kabila, rejected U.S. and Bechtel Corporation plans
for the newly liberated country and annulled mining contracts signed
with some powerful Western companies before he had taken power—including
America Mineral Fields, based in Hope, Arkansas and said to be linked
to then-President Clinton through “Friend of Bill” investors.
Kabila also ejected the Rwandan and Ugandan military allies that
brought him to power.
Congolese people call it the “war of aggression,” but
it was dubbed “Africa’s First World War” by the western
press, as it involved six regional nations, as well as arms and
advisers from western countries. Troops from Rwanda and Uganda (now
backing anti-Kabila rebels), as well as Zimbabwe (allied with the
DRC government) worked with commercial agents to pilfer DRC’s
ivory, diamonds, gold, timber, cobalt, and other natural resources.
Foreign agents moved these plundered resources onto the international
market, as militia groups raked in local profits.
least 3.5 million people died due to warfare in the DRC, according
to the International Rescue Committee report on the region. From
1999-2001, through networks of Rwandan military and commercial agents,
Rwandan interests aligned with the state earned at least $240 million
in the sale of coltan (columbo-tantalite)—a precious ore essential
to Sony playstations, laptop computers, and cell phones. In December
2000 alone the main RPA-supported rebel group in the DRC earned
some $600,000 in coltan sales. Coltan moved through criminal syndicates
to U.S., Swiss, Belgian, and German clients. Rwandan syndicates
continue to dominate the coltan trade out of eastern DRC, local
of the Earth and the UK-based group Rights and Accountability in
Development (RAID) filed a formal complaint with the U.S. State
Department on August 4, 2004 against three U.S. companies accused
by the UN Panel of Experts of fueling war. The UN panel’s three-year
investigation implicated Cabot Corporation (Boston), Eagle Wings
Resources International, and George Forrest’s OM Group (Ohio)
in collaboration with various rebel groups trafficking in coltan
from DRC. Current deputy director of the U.S. Treasury Department,
Samuel Bodman, was CEO and chair of Cabot from 1997-2001.
is important to note that the conflict in Central Africa revolves
not around “governments” so much as militarized power
blocks and multinational corporate alignments which are transnational.
Thus while powerful U.S. government interests may back the Kagame
and Museveni regimes in support of destabilization of Central Africa
and the annexation of the Kivu and Orientale provinces, other powerful
interests—such as the International Rescue Committee —maintain
a constant international media presence that appears to be in conflict
with that agenda, but which nevertheless exists as a major lobby
in support of or defense of certain interests at the expense of
certain others. Notable personalities on the IRC’s Boards of
Directors and Overseers include Morton Abramowitz, Tom Brokaw, and
An Unraveling Peace Process
DRC frontier with Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi has remained the locus
of instability and guerrilla warfare since at least 1994—long
before the first Rwandan invasion of Congo in 1996—and the
rising insecurity and terrorism has all but annihilated the local
civilian population. North and South Kivu provinces continue to
suffer from widespread violence and killings in the Goma and Bukavu
areas are rampant. The Ituri region of Orinetale Province, bordering
on Uganda, Sudan, and the Central African Republic, is cited as
one of the bloodiest corners of the world by numerous human rights
agencies. The UN Security Council’s “Special Report on
Ituri,” outlines the history of conflict in Ituri, the role
of Ugandan and Rwandan government forces in arming factions, bombing
villages, massacring and torturing civilians, and provoking and,
at times, abetting, acts of genocide.
the rising insecurity in Ituri in recent months, with assassinations
and nightly shootings, the population in Bunia increasingly sees
MONUC as a hostile and aggressive force of foreign military occupation.
Said one Bunia resident formerly employed by MONUC: “Public
opinion is that MONUC has done nothing. People thought that MONUC
came here to bring peace, but to their surprise people find that
MONUC is like a spectator in a football match. People are dying
in their presence. People are being terrorized in their presence.
People are being killed in there presence and MONUC is doing nothing.”
incidents occur daily,” admitted one public information officer
for MONUC. “I don’t think there is any area except maybe
in Bunia [town] where the human rights situation is improving.”
of MONUC personnel buying and transporting contraband goods—leopard
and okapi skins, gold, ivory—are also widespread; one western
photojournalist witnessed Belgian troops openly purchasing ivory;
troops are immune to customs search and seizure.
continue to flow into the region. Uganda’s government newspaper
reported on November 23 that arms shipments
reportedly destined for the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC), a
regional militia aligned with Rwanda, were seized by the Armed Forces
of the Congolese People (FAPC), a rival Congolese militia in control
of the lucrative Ituri Province customs posts in northeastern DRC.
to local sources, local government officials have delivered firearms
to civilians in Masisi, North Kivu, long the site of conflict between
different political and military groups,” wrote Human Rights
Watch on November 19. “Other shipments have been delivered
to Ituri, another persistently troubled area in northeastern Congo.
UN sources reported that some 300 Congolese high school students,
refugees in neighboring Rwanda, abruptly left their schools and
are said to be undergoing military training.”
to recent reports from northern Ituri, the FAPC has reportedly executed
child soldiers seeking to enter the DDR process and attacked the
families and looted the homes of reintegrated ex-child soldiers.
The UPC and the Force for National Liberation, another militia,
continue to extort a weekly war tax from citizens, persecute those
who refuse to comply, and terrorize the citizenry.
armed groups in Ituri have integrated children into their ranks,”
wrote MONUC investigators. MONUC conservatively estimated “at
least 40 percent of each militia force are children below the age
of 18, with a significant minority below the age of 15.” The
MONUC investigation found that Ugandan and Rwandan military were
frequently training children abducted and forcibly or willingly
recruited into DRC militias. MONUC documented cases where hundreds
of children were taken by road or plane to Uganda or Rwanda for
UPC and the Force for National Liberation continue to extort a weekly
war tax from citizens, persecute those who refuse to comply, and
terrorize the citizenry. Said one witness, “The UPC is collecting
money. They say, ‘Either you pay 100 francs Congolese or we
come at night.’ Then when they come they cut off your hand
or violate women.”
violence is a national epidemic in DR Congo,” wrote Survivors
Rights International (SRI) in a December 5, 2004 alert, “involving
all military factions, both current and past military forces involved
in the internal affairs of the DRC, and it appears to be sanctioned
by all levels of military command.
also reported that the presence of hundreds of internally displaced
girls and women currently resident in Mbandaka has spawned commerce
in prostitution and survival sex involving both Armed Forces of
Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC) and MONUC troops. “FARDC
further prey on female sex workers by forcing sexual relations,
raping those who refuse, and universally robbing desperate females
of their livelihood,” SRI wrote.
Forgotten Resource Wars
and Uganda continue to benefit from high-level military arrangements
with the United States. Entebbe, Uganda is a forward base for U.S.
Air Force operations in Central Africa. According to the Global
Policy watchdog, there are 11 U.S. servicepeople permanently stationed
in Entebbe. Sources in Uganda and the DRC confirm that weapons move
freely through Entebbe airport from U.S. interests. The BBC reported
March 23, 2004 that U.S. General Charles Wald confirmed that the
U.S. is directly involved in the fight against the Lord’s Resistance
Army (LRA) in Uganda. “I have met with [Uganda’s] President
Museveni,’ Wald reported on the BBC. “I have heard personally
that he is very pleased with the support we are giving him…. Its
not just moral support…. But many things need to be kept a bit
July 2004, members of the DRC military flew to Tampa, Florida to
participate in an unfolding U.S. “anti-terrorism” military
program called Golden Spear.
Canadian mining firms Barrick Gold and Heritage Oil & Gas arrived
with the Ugandan and Rwandan military during the “war of aggression”
to exploit mining opportunities in the north. Barrick principals
include former Canadian premier Brian Mulroney and former U.S. president
George H.W. Bush. Heritage has secured contracts for the vast oil
reserves of Semliki basin, beneath Lake Albert, on both the Congolese
and Ugandan sides of the border. Heritage is reportedly tapping
the Semliki petroleum reserves from the Ugandan side, where a huge
pipeline to Mombasa, Kenya, worth billions of dollars, is now in
to a petroleum futures report (
), Heritage Oil
was poised to exploit the northern Lake Albert basin, southern Lake
Albert basin, River Semliki basin, and Lake George and Lake Albert
basin areas in partnership with the Zhongyuan Petroleum Exploration
Bureau (ZPEB) of China. Heritage is currently exploiting petroleum
in neighboring war-torn Congo-Brazzaville in partnership with ZPEB.
Notably, ZPEB is the petroleum firm currently operating behind the
genocide of indigenous Anuak people in southeastern Ethiopia (see
the December 12, 2004 report by Genocide Watch: “Operation
Goldfields has reportedly secured a contract for the vast gold reserves
at Mongwalu, north of Bunia. Ashanti has ties to South Africa and
the British Crown and some sources in Bunia report that the Ashanti
interest in nearby Mongwalu is guarded by Nepalese Gurkhas, possibly
of the Gurkha Security Group based in Britain. The Clintonite multinational
America Mineral Fields in May 2004 changed its name to Adastra Minerals
and the corporation has multi-billion dollar copper and cobalt mining
projects underway, in partnership with the Kabila government, in
Katanga province. Elsewhere in DRC, major foreign mining and logging
contracts are underway.
the death toll in Congo’s war has easily exceeded five million
snow is a journalist and photographer. His work has appeared in publications
in the U.S., UK, and Japan.
An earlier version of this article first appeared in WW4 Report,