In the recent past, Rwanda has been in the limelight for all the good reasons including the fact that it one of the fastest growing economies in Africa, but now the country is being accused of recruiting and training Burundian refugees with a goal of ousting President Pierre Nkurunzisa of Burundi.
According to a confidential report to the United Nations Security Council seen by Reuters in February accused Rwanda of being involved in Burundi’s political violence which has been escalating into mass atrocities. The report was prepared by experts who monitor sanctions on the Democratic republic of Congo.
The report detailed accounts from several rebel fighters, who spoke to sanctions monitors about the training being done in a forest camp in Rwanda.
Burundi went into turmoil when Nkurunzisa declared his bid to run for a third term last year. The announcement sparked tension which escalated into political skirmishes after he won in July, bringing back memories of past wars in the country, some of which were termed as genocide.
The report which has accounts of 18 Burundian combatants in eastern Congo’s South Kivu province, showed that the rebels were recruited mid last year in a Rwanda’s refugee camp.
"They all told the group that they had been recruited in the Mahama Refugee Camp in eastern Rwanda in May and June 2015 and were given two months of military training by instructors, who included Rwandan military personnel," according to the report.
In the latest twist to the accusations, The Democratic Republic of Congo has also accused neighboring Rwanda of recruiting former M23 rebels to help overthrow Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza. The new development only makes matters worse as Burundi slowly sinks into ethnically targeted retaliation wars between the pro-government and those against the ruling party.
The government in DR Congo is also saying that Rwanda has been supporting ex-M23 fighters exiled in Uganda and Rwanda to join Burundi opposition forces in a bid to topple the government in Bujumbura.
Congolese government spokesman Lambert Mende Omalanga said: “We want these people [the ex-M23 rebels] back home. There are some wrong elements from Rwanda who are recruiting them to go and fight in Burundi. We have arrested some of them in North Kivu (a province in eastern Congo), and we shall prosecute them,” Mende told IRIN.
“We can’t accept any Congolese national participating in the destabilization of peace and security in a neighboring country,” he said.
Rwanda rejects the accusations
Rwanda has continued to deny the claims terming them as “rubbish”.
Speaking to IRIN, the Rwandan ambassador to Uganda, Major-General Frank Mugambage said “It’s the usual rhetoric and baseless allegations labeling Rwanda by Congo and others. There is no such a thing [happening].”
René Abandi, M23’s former foreign minister, also denied the allegations. “All of that is political intoxication,” he told the news outlet. “They are looking for a scapegoat. Time will talk better than me.”
Alex Fielding, senior analyst at Max Security Solutions, a geopolitical risk consulting firm, argues that the failure of the of the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) program for the M23 is the reason why such issues are cropping up, increasing regional insecurity. “[The lack of progress] remains a destabilizing force generally, and a potential recruiting ground for other conflicts, such as the one in Burundi,” said Fielding.
As elections approach in the Congo and political hostility in Burundi deepens, it is feared that officer from the insurgent groups like M23 could join new groups in the region, according to Jason Stearns, director of the Congo Research Group at New York University who spoke to IRIN.
“The most important part of the M23 is the core of highly experienced senior officers,” he said. “Their future is uncertain: their host countries refuse to arrest them on war crimes charges in the Congo, and authorities in Kinshasa are unlikely to [give them] amnesty.”
Even as fingers are being pointed at Rwanda and other external forces, Nkurunzisa also has a major role to play in ending or continuing the crisis that has claimed more than a thousand lives, and forced tens of thousands to flee the country according to latest reports. The conflict which has included an attempted coup and well-documented human rights violations has attracted the attention of the International Criminal Court, which said in April it will open a preliminary probe into Burundi’s violence.
Nkurunzisa has on several occasions postponed meetings aimed at finding amicable solutions to his country. Last week, he refused to meet with a broad-based opposition coalition dubbing all as terrorists. Peace dialogues with the former Tanzanian president Benjamin Mpaka which were set to begin last week were postponed, leaving Burundians hanging by the thread. There are fears of civil war as the top leader keeps on pushing dates one after another.
Image credit: Guy Oliver/IRIN