Rwanda wants lead UN expert on Congo probed
Kigali: The Government of Rwanda has requested the United Nations to investigate circumstances under which Steve Hege was appointed as coordinator of the UN Group of Experts on the Congo despite his open support for the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) terrorist group. Foreign Affairs and Cooperation Minister, Louise Mushikiwabo, told The New Times yesterday that Kigali expected the UN to investigate Hege's questionable impartiality on Congo and regional realities, particularly his alleged FDLR sympathies.
She was speaking on the sidelines of a meeting in Kampala.of foreign and defence ministers from the eleven member states of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) on the current Congo crisis.
"We are requesting the appointing authority, which is the UN (Security Council), to actually look into this. We are not rushing to conclusions but are certainly very shocked that somebody who holds such views about the Government of Rwanda and the history of the region, with such serious bias in favour of genocidal ideology and groups, would be assigned to do such a job," she said.
"The least that could happen is for the UN to look into this".
Hege, who was appointed to head the seven-member panel on June 25, 2010, has previously authored papers portraying the FDLR militia as victims and Kigali as perpetrators of war crimes. In one of the articles published in 2009, he suggested international opinion would ultimately "sour on the Rwandan regime", to give FDLR political advantage.
The FDLR, a militia group based in the DRC, comprises of elements responsible for the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi that left more than one million people dead. The militia was blacklisted as a terrorist group by the US and a regional inter-state platform, Tripartite Plus, following a spate of violence inside the Congo and neighbouring countries.
The head of the UN Group of Experts (GoE) has become the subject of increasing scrutiny following the circulation of publications that depict him as an FDLR sympathiser.
In one of his articles, Hege criticized the 2009 joint Rwanda-DRC military operations against the FDLR, claiming the militia group had been betrayed by Kinshasa following a Kigali-brokered deal with the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) rebels on March 23, 2009 and joint military operations against the militia.
In one article, "Understanding the FDLR in the DR Congo: Key facts on the disarmament & repatriation of Rwandan rebels", published by Peace Appeal Foundation, on February 24, 2009, Hege wrote: "The FDLR must be viewed in light of the regional history of armed rebellions formed by refugees and/or political exiles who have eventually taken power back from undemocratic regimes".
"Many FDLR claim their arms are a defense for the remaining refugees who have not received any assistance for over a decade. While only a small percentage of the FDLR actually participated in the horrors of 1994, the Rwandan government has been reticent to collaborate with MONUC regarding FDLR leaders not implicated in the genocide," Hege alleged in the article.
"The FDLR have not constituted a military threat to Rwanda for over five years. The FDLR would rather wait for political negotiations when international opinion eventually sours on the Rwandan regime".
GoE recently released an addendum to an interim Congo report to the UN Security Council accusing Rwanda of backing the M23 rebels currently fighting President Joseph Kabila's government.
Rwanda has dismissed the accusations and last week presented to the UN Security Council a 131-page rebuttal to the addendum challenging every allegation.
Analysts and diplomats alike have described Rwanda's response to the GoE's allegations - exclusively based on interviews with Congolese military and security officials - as strong and satisfactory.
Last Friday, the Netherlands outgoing Ambassador to Rwanda Frans Makken, told The New Times: "It is important to note that Rwanda is taking this issue very seriously; we think that Rwanda has made an extremely serious response to the UN Experts report. They have satisfied us in rebutting the various allegations".
The envoy also hailed Kigali's "openness" to the ongoing efforts to resolve the Congo crisis. "We are following the negotiations that are going on closely, we saw them in Addis Ababa, we know that in Kampala there will be the next high-level meeting and so far Rwanda has been extremely open to all kinds of monitoring of the border, of revamping the joint verification mechanism with the Congo, to a regional force, whatever can bring a solution Rwanda is open; so we welcome this constructive attitude".
Today, the ICGLR Heads of State are expected to meet in the Ugandan capital for an extra-ordinary meeting on the Congo crisis. Regional foreign and defence ministers were still locked in the preparatory meeting by press time, with sources indicating that an agreement was yet to be reached on the proposed African "neutral force" to be deployed along the DRC-Rwanda border and help disarm armed groups, including M23 and FDLR.
The meeting is a follow up on the one held earlier last month at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, which decided on the "neutral force".
Meanwhile, the United Nations Regional Office for Central Africa (UNOCA) and the ICGLR, yesterday signed a framework of cooperation in the fields of peace, security, prevention and conflict resolution.
"Cooperation with ICGLR is not only logical, but also necessary. It highlights the determination of the United Nations to support regional and sub-regional organisations in their efforts to find solutions to the challenges that threaten international peace", said the Special Representative of UN Secretary-General for Central Africa, Abou Moussa.