Rwanda's Secret War
U. S. -backed destabilization
of Central Africa
by keith harmon snow
Z magazine, February 2005
0n 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 Hum 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
With 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.
According 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 Monitor newspaper in Uganda reported December
6 that RDF troops passing illegally through Ugandan frontier areas
had also clashed with Ugandan soldiers. The Monitor reported thousands
of Congolese refugees fleeing into Uganda.
According 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.
These 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
He 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 Hum rebels break through
this cordon sanitaire and strike Rwanda, then retreat into the
DRC without being intercepted?"
Higiro 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, DC.
Rwanda's 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 territory."
Reuters 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 peace-keepers found no signs of any fighting,
according to Lewis's UN sources. Lewis also reported that clashes
had taken place earlier in the week.
In 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 MONUC's 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.
Rwandan 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.
Rwanda 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 ongoing genocide.
MONUC entered the DRC in 1999 after peace
agreements signed in Lusaka, Zambia.
Subsequent 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.
The 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.
Impunity 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.
Rights 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 KENYA contributed
to hostility against them 11 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." UPDF
soldiers celebrate their warfighting capabilities-photo from ww3report.com
In 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
Paul 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-Hum-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 Hums (FAR)
and affiliated Interahamwe (Hutu) militias from April to July.
Critics 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.
Evidence 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) (4-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 Hum genocide.
Paul 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 military
penetration on the continent.
Terror 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.
The 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 Hum refugee camps in eastern Congo with Katusha missiles,
RPA 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.
Mobutu ' s 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.
Wayne 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.
Recent 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 Hum 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 Hum refugees on Zairean territory."
Thousands of Hum 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."
"U.S. special forces were involved,"
asserted one DRC army captain interviewed recently in Kinshasa.
The AFDL forces included UPDF, RPA, and U.S. military advisers,
Colonel 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.
The 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
The 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.
At 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 sources claim.
Friends 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.
It 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 Henry Kissinger.
An Unraveling Peace Process
The 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.
Given 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."
"Firing 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."
Reports 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
Arms continue to flow into the region.
Uganda's government newspaper the New Vision 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.
"According 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
According 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.
"All 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 military training.
The 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."
"Sexual 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.
SRI 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,"
Forgotten Resource Wars
Rwanda 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
In 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.
The 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 the works.
According to a petroleum futures report
(Africafront), 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 Sunny Mountain").
Ashanti 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.
Meanwhile the death toll in Congo's war
has easily exceeded five million people.
keith harmon snow is a journalist and
photographer. His work has appeared in publications in the U.S.,
UK, and Japan.
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