Rwanda’s Defence Minister Gen. James Kabarebe in an interview with a congolese outlet Mediacongo.net gave detailed insight of the crisis in Eastern Congo.
Below are excerpts of the detailed conversation. However below this article is a link of the original piece written in French.
On the eve of elections in Congo last year, you said you could help DRC become more stable. Given the current situation, what went wrong?
It’s not just on the eve of 2011 elections that we have tried to help the DRCongo. In 2009 we tried to solve the problem of CNDP (National Council for the Defence of the People), leading to the arrest of General Laurent Nkunda and the sidelining of many other groups, Pareco, the Mai Mai Kifwawa, Nakabaka group, FRC ... All were eventually integrated into government troops. Since then, we have restored diplomatic relations with the DRCongo, our presidents met several times.
What happened? This is a question we ask ourselves too, but nobody is there to answer. But some people, especially in the West, have decided to interview only Rwanda on what is happening in the DRC.
After the elections, President Kabila has been put under pressure by the international community demanding arrest of General Bosco Ntaganda, wanted by the International Criminal Court. There had not been a kind of agreement between Kinshasa and Kigali to avert Gen. Ntaganda?
This is where the confusion began.
For the genesis of the story, we must go back to the agreements in 2009 and that, until after the elections in Congo and until April 2012, there was no problem.
In 2009, we helped solve the problem of supporting the CNDP integration of its soldiers in the DRC army, as well as militias; Pareco, Mai Mai Kifwawa, Nakabaka, a dozen groups. But thereafter, the management of this situation would be the case of the Congolese themselves.
CNDP had been built as a result of an agreement signed in Nairobi under the supervision of Presidents Obasanjo and Mkapa. Rwanda had contributed to an agreement for three years, had helped pacify the eastern Congo.
But today the integration of these forces has failed. This failure is not the fault of Rwanda, but it is due to the mismanagement of the military integration process.
What has happened this year?
In December, the day after his election, President Kabila sent a special envoy to Kigali, accompanied by a few soldiers. Presidential Adviser, Katumba Mwanke, bringing a message in four points.
The first is that President Kabila was seeking the support of Rwanda to transfer to other provinces expression Rwandan soldiers were in the eastern Congo. He also wanted our support that westerners had urged him to arrest Gen.Bosco Ntaganda.
After completing these two points, we would have conducted joint operations to neutralize the FDLR.
The delegation told us that the soldiers refused to be deployed Rwandophone outside of Kivu and hoped that we would be able to convince them, given our historical relationship not only with former CNDP soldiers but also with other Congolese officers.
According to them, these men refused to be transferred to other parts of the country as Gen. Ntaganda forbade them ... As usual we offered our help even if my feeling was that such problems should be solved internally.
We recall that the international community, which demanded the arrest of Gen.Ntaganda,DRCongo had a UN peacekeeping force of 20,000 with tanks, helicopters, special forces, a force located partly in Goma, across from Ntaganda’s base.
With him, the officers played tennis; they frequented the same clubs, the same bars and restaurants. Why did they not the arrest him? We told them that the arrest was not Rwanda’s case, it was a Congolese officer very close to President Kabila, they had done business together.
Do you remember the story of a planeload of gold intercepted in Goma? Very senior Congolese were involved in this case. Gen. Ntaganda was no longer under our control...
The members of the delegation we were told that they would arrest Gen. Ntaganda, but without bringing them before the International Criminal Court. The delegation returned to Kinshasa. Two days after this encounter, Mwanke Katumba was killed in a plane crash in Bukavu.
In late March, President Kabila sent another delegation to Kigali, headed by the chief of the security services, Kalev, Yav, Col. Jean-Claude and others.
They still wanted our assistance because they did not solve the problems of the East without our support. What support? They ensured that Gen. Ntaganda soldiers blocking the transfer of Rwandans in the country.
We proposed a meeting to which Gen. Ntaganda participated and where we would try to convince him to convince them to let these officers be deployed outside of Kivu.
The meeting was set for April 8, the day said, we expected these gentlemen, but they arrived without Ntaganda because the rumor had spread that the governments of Rwanda and Congo were preparing to stop him. Frightened, he refused to come. Congolese arrived with three officers, Col. Sultani Makenka Col. Faustin Muhindo and Col. Innocent Zimurinda.
The meeting was supposed to convince Ntaganda, but he was absent. "He disappeared last night with 200 of his men outside Goma ... Maybe is he on his farm from Masisi .. ". I then pointed out that "if Bosco is no longer there, it cannot prevent the deployment, the problem is solved ..."
I was told that in fact there was still a problem and that is why three officers were there. We listened to our interlocutors, with the desire to help the DRC, in a friendly and fraternal way. The importance of this meeting, April 8, is that it was a question of a missed opportunity. It marked the turning point of everything that would happen later in the Congo.
If our interlocutors had listened to the advice that we gave them that day, things would have been very different.
This date is crucial because at this meeting we listened to government officials including the head of Kalev Safety and General Yav. They accused the Banyarwanda officers of refusing to be deployed elsewhere in the country, not part of the system ... Kalev explained that the President was determined to protect Gen.Ntaganda, not to transfer to the ICC but to a court in Congo.
They raised so many points, I kept all my notes, meeting minutes ... The three officers Rwandophone explained: "It is not that we blocked Bosco, but the fact that many points on which an agreement was reached in 2009 have not been made. As a prerequisite for our deployment in other parts of the Congo, it was to restore security in Kivu, the problem of the FDLR, allow our parents for so long living in refugee camps in Rwanda to return home.
"They added" Our integration was never complete, we were paid differently than other members, we received grades but they were never confirmed orders, and any time we might be driven out of the army. "These officers conjured segregation, exclusion, being regarded as second-class military ..."
More they mentioned that 50 of their comrades who had been transferred to Dungu in Orientale Province, were killed in one night and that the government had never conducted any investigation.
They cited the name of the person responsible for their deaths, a colonel still in service ... " We were ready to contribute to peace in the Kivus, but didn’t help us: we lack transportation, communications, vehicles, money. Nothing. And how can we conduct operations against the FDLR and other armed groups?
And even when we start these operations, the FDLR are informed in advance by people from the government side, they pass the information. ’
There were so many complaints that I cannot remember them all. I then spoke to Kalev, asking if he knew all this already. He replied to the others he had heard it so many times, he had often spoken to the president!
I then asked how they could get out of this situation. They repeated that they could not deploy outside of Kivu. Others have said that the government could not tolerate indiscipline and they should leave. I then warned government officials, telling them that this was a bomb; they had to find solutions before it is too late.
As I know very well the situation in Kivu, I know everyone there; I concluded that it was on the eve of war. I said it should be avoided at all costs to get there and that if they wanted any assistance, we are willing to help find a solution. War, we say, will affect everyone, the Congolese population, Rwanda. From our perspective, if war breaks out, the FDLR will regain ground.
At the same time, April 8, while we sought a peaceful solution,the Congolese government sent a large military force in Goma, rocket launchers, tanks T52 helicopter gunships. Goma was suddenly heavily militarized.
At the moment, with the Kalev CIO and civil Yav the head of military information, we try to solve problems peacefully, the Chief of Staff, General Etumba and the head of the Army Four Tango Amisi landed in Goma to strengthen the military effort.
We repeated that the military option was not the best, but they went forward.
It is at this same time that officers began to desert their units, others have refused deployment.
I then advised to reunite the army to stop the transfers, because the situation was dangerous to look into the administration of the army, because there were too many irregularities, problems of command.
About Gen. Ntaganda, we said that if it was indiscipline, this could not be tolerated.
They told me that this was not possible because he was in his farm. I offered to carry out together a new operation against the FDLR. As commanders who refused to move to Kinshasa or elsewhere, I advised them not to be too hard on them, because it would create chaos. The situation was so volatile that using military force against them could be dangerous.
After the meeting, President Kabila came to Goma, where he announced that he had to stop Gen. Ntaganda at all costs, at any price. This message was the opposite of what I had heard the night before, where I was told that Ntaganda could stay on his farm.
At this time, so many things happened! When Col. Zimurinda arrived in Goma, he was disarmed, but the same evening, he went with his weapons and his escorts and immediately joined Gen.Ntaganda.
The next day, Col. Baudouin Ngaruye was also disarmed and by evening his weapons were returned. After negotiations he joined Ntaganda. The same day, in Rutshuru Gen. Amisi ordered to disarm all the former CNDP soldiers.
Then there was a clash between these soldiers. Then, Fizi officers of the former Pareco, Nsabimana were disarmed and Saddam, there were skirmishes and they fled to Uvira.
The commander of the area, Delphin Kahimbi, deployed forces to fight in Uvira and Bernard Nyamungu tried to protect the fugitives before fleeing himself to Bukavu, where he was arrested. Thus began the chaos.
As Col. Makenga returned to Bukavu after our meeting. When President Kabila arrived in Goma, Makenga was supposed to return to attend a meeting, on the road from Bukavu to Goma, there was an ambush mounted by Delphin Kahimbi. Makenga escaped and arrived in Goma anyway but never returned to Bukavu.
This version is controversial because according to other sources, Makenga have fled the lake towards Rwanda.
No, he escaped the ambush and after a few days he called Jean-Claude Yav saying he could not return to Bukavu Kahimbi as long as she would be and he remained in Goma.
Are you sure he has not traveled to Gisenyi at this time?
No, he remained in Goma. Makenga never used to come to Rwanda because we wanted to have arrest Laurent Nkunda that he was very close.
During these few days, fighting began against Gen. Ntaganda, the FARDC attacked his farm and they brought reinforcements from South Kivu. Delphin Kahimbi even climbed up Bukavu Goma. LED happen Makenga Goma left turn and went to Runyionyi, a place he knew well.
This movement by Col. Makenga towards Runyioni changed the whole scenario of war if Bosco was not popular among the soldiers, not even with Rwandophone: he was very popular with soldiers ... his departure caused desertions from FARDC ..
Former CNDP in Masisi were almost defeated and reinforced when they did move to Runyonyi. That’s when we spoke of the support of Rwanda ...
This is false, hopeless. They were defeated. Between Masisi and Runyoni, there is a long distance, more than seven hours.
But a ceasefire was declared, which allowed them to escape.
No, there was no ceasefire. What happened was that this force was intact, with its weapons and commanders.
What is important is that when Makenga reached Runyonyi, he had 200 soldiers. In the days that followed, thousands soldiers, officers had converged and then defected to join Makenga, it was not only Rwandans.
According to our information, 80% of the forces of M23 are Hutus, veterans Pareco. Bashi, Hutu, Nande, Barega, many other groups joined the M23. Even members of the bodyguard of President Kabila in Katanga, Kasai defected and joined Makenga.
The poor management of the troops is the heart of the problem. How can you send troops into operation by giving them only a handful of beans! Instead of sending them food, give them a bag of beans, water, salt-free rice casserole or without firewood ... This is impossible.
We cannot say that the Congolese army failed to beat the M23, because the M23 was backed by Rwanda. No. They failed because they cannot fight in conditions where they are. They do not even kill a rat.
They could fight if they were fed properly.
The food is not enough. It also requires a good command structure ... Having joined the M23, the deserters began to fight better. Not only because of the food, but because they were fighting against a system that abused them ... Saying that Rwanda supported the M23, this is wrong and I’ll prove it ...
You say no reinforcement has crossed the border?
I knew this area once. Runyonyi is not on the border, walk from the Rwandan border Runyonyi up, it takes at least eleven hours of walking, you cross the forest because there are no roads, there is no link between Runyonyi and Rwanda. This whole support that Rwanda has made is a manipulation.
It involves the Congolese government wanting to save face after its military defeat and ordered to explain why his soldiers did not fight. It is supported by the West, disappointed by the fact that Bosco Ntaganda was not arrested by the Criminal Court and that Rwanda has not cooperated in the arrest. Rwanda is punished because we did not cooperate with the International Criminal Court, this is the real problem.
Everyone knows that Rwanda does not have a single soldier within the M23, gives them no support. Even the Congolese know this, they said to us individually, but they had to save face.
But in Goma in late June, defectors have testified that they were recruited to come to Rwanda to Congo fight ... What do we think?
You know the Congo, you know how Bukavu, is a melting pot of lies aired on radio by the governor, the minister of information ...
Still, those who spread these stories that you call lies were many, from different backgrounds, including UN observers...
This is why I speak of a conspiracy against Rwanda, in connivance with the Congolese government and the international community. MONUSCO has been in Congo for more than ten years, and it has not solved anything. It does business with the FDLR, made trade with gold, coltan, we all know that.
The group of UN experts, these young men and women who wrote the report, as Steven Hege, who advocates negotiations with the FDLR, it was also handled by the Congolese government.
How can United Nations designate such people as experts as young and inexperienced, who are lost even in acronyms. Even their integrity is questionable ... They do not have the minimum required level of understanding in this area.
For us, we’re not going to stop having contact with the floor. 1st of May, we had contacts at the Staff. They asked us to help them and we will. We reminded them that on April 8 they had missed an opportunity to avoid war. We asked them to stop fighting so we can see what to do, how to help.
At this time, our Congolese interlocutors explicitly asked us to move our forces into the Congo to help solve the problem. We refused to move our forces ..
However you have forces based in Rutshuru ...
Yes, they were destined to fight the FDLR. Its two companies of special forces, along with two Congolese special forces companies. For two years they are there and they are still there...
On May 3, we had another meeting in Kigali, the Congolese minister of defense and he also asked us to intervene. But we could not see how we could solve this problem militarily. On May 12, another meeting of defense ministers in Rubavu, they made the same request.
On May 18, another meeting in Kigali, May 26 new meeting in Kigali, including the Congolese Minister of Foreign Affairs. At this time, the defeat of government forces was obvious. And it was at this meeting that, for the first time, the Congolese began to accuse Rwanda of aiding the M23, and that while we already had many meetings to discuss how to help.
They only mentioned this charge on our side and we said some commanders had integrated FDLR. We proposed to establish a joint verification mechanism.
On May 29, the Joint Chiefs of Staff launched the verification mechanism to dispel rumors. On June 19, there was another meeting in Kinshasa, but two days before the Congolese government, the UN, accused Rwanda ...
Meanwhile, in Goma, defectors had told Monusco they had been recruited in Rwanda to join the M23 ...
We were informed that there was going to fabricate evidence to challenge the Rwanda and we had informed our Congolese interlocutors. We asked them why they did that.
First there was the case of the 11, the FDLR who were in the camp Mutobo and were sent to Runyonyi. After that I have spoken to Colonel Yav, history disappeared. But then reappeared and was found in the 11 defectors camp MONUSCO. Kalev, the head of the NRA, is the origin of all these operations, history was made in Goma, presented MONUSCO and there is party to the UN ...
There are so many stories ... Until the last issue where he is a captain that Saddam was captured somewhere by the FARDC. They found on him a Rwandan identity card and presented it to the group of UN experts.
We do not know this person, is not included on the lists of our army ... The truth is that while we were in Goma for a meeting, the head of the Congolese military intelligence came to me in my room, and about the history of the captain, he said, "we make a big mistake by making these kinds of stories against Rwanda, it has already cost us so dear ...
It belongs to Capt. Saddam of Congolese army, but Kalev who decided to make a fake Rwandan identity card and sent it to the UN fake testimony... Can you imagine that decisions are made on such a basis? ’
If Rwanda is the victim of a conspiracy, it is still huge, with the participation of different people, it is much ...
There have been so many, it’s true ... But let’s face it now: Congolese are victims of chaos they have created themselves, the international community knows, I have the minutes of the meeting of the eleven foreign ministers conference on security in the Great Lakes in Nairobi.
The Congolese government there clearly states that the primary cause of instability in eastern Congo is the international pressure put on the arrest of Ntaganda. And then we put the blame on Rwanda!
As for us, we continue meetings and contacts with the Congolese. But we happened to see in Kigali two delegations from Congo., Each had its own message, different from the other and refuses a joint meeting ... It’s total confusion.
But what is clear is that President Kabila has been fed lies by his people on the ground ...
I think that while starting this war, the Congolese had thought it would be a fast operation. They overestimated. But when things started to change in the field, they began looking for a pretext, and to designate Rwanda.
Even more easily whenever something is not well Congo accuses Rwanda. To this was added the frustration of the West who wanted to arrest Bosco Ntaganda and President Kabila pushed to do so. All this created a great chaos.
I’m back with the same question: you can put into question the UN experts, their expertise, their level, you can report Kalev and manipulation of the ANR, but do not you think that the Americans, British, and same Belgians also have their own sources of information. However, all confirm the same facts. They are all victims of a collective hallucination?
We have large embassies in Rwanda, and they have the means to intelligence. They certainly monitor troop movements, logistics, and movements toward the border.
But for the past six years at least, there is no movement towards the border ... How could Rwanda fight in DRC without any movement visible?
What they say, there is information that has been transmitted from the other side of the border, nothing they found themselves ... In Rwanda itself, they saw nothing.
How, in this densely populated country, the passage of hundreds of soldiers, weapons, trucks he would have gone unnoticed? No evidence can be provided ...
The Belgian Minister Reynders suggested that "uncontrolled elements of Rwanda" could be involved. Sounds possible?
I am sure that Rwandan soldiers are more controlled and better organized than the Belgians. If rogue elements exist somewhere, it is rather in the Belgian army. The Rwandan army is strong, well organized, orderly, well-disciplined, rogue elements within it cannot exist ...
And uncontrolled recruitment of Tutsi Congolese origin who find themselves in the territory of Rwanda, it is impossible too?
This is possible. Refugee camps in Buyumba, Gatsibo, Kibuye and Kigeme and other refugees are in camps. There is recruitment in these areas where it is very possible to 100%.
I told the Congolese that they had information about the recruitment; they could give us, for us to put an end. But the Congolese prefer making noise accusing Rwanda .
Private interests, mafia, they have been involved in all this?
It is the imagination, fantasy, confusion. How Rwanda could tolerate such movements? Rwandan society is very disciplined, we cannot have such items ... And even if it were, it does not explain how an army could be beaten by a few hundred items ...
Twenty two thousand elements, equipped with tanks, helicopters were thwarted by a few hundred rebels. This shows that in Congo there is no government or army, only a great emptiness.
All these observations are made, the pressure being put on Rwanda, what are the solutions?
Rwanda is not under pressure. Do you really believe that the UN could put pressure on Rwanda? This is nonsense. Even sanctions not frighten us, they mean nothing.
But if funds are cut budgets blocked, it can hurt ...
Money is not a problem. In the bush we have survived without resources ... Without help, we will develop better, it will give us even more energy.
If they are basing their point of sanctions on lies, let them do it, it will not influence Rwanda. In Congo, we have not started these stories, we have not supported and now we will not go there to clean up their mess.
We rely on ourselves as we have always done ...
What are the possible solutions?
It is up to the Congolese to find it. And also to the Member States of the International Conference on Security in the Great Lakes, which will review September 5. I’m not sure the neutral force will never be born.
By which work against, the Joint Verification Mechanism, which will be composed of three representatives from each member state of the conference.
The command will be exercised by Uganda, the number two will be from Brazzaville, the other will come from DRC, Rwanda, Burundi, Angola, Tanzania ... These officers will check the border between the DRC and Rwanda, as they control the field application of the ceasefire between the Congolese army and the M23 and the FDLR presence in the field. All this waiting for the eventual deployment of a neutral force. If it ever comes ...
Negotiations with the M23 are possible?
It depends on what the conference decides. Now we must let them play regional mechanisms. We refer to the decisions of the Conference chaired by Uganda.
If you want to get out of this crisis, we must understand that the international community in pressuring Rwanda about the situation in the DRC, it is not good for the DRC: the problems are born there, that is where they should be resolved.
Congolese must know that the solution to their problems will not come from the international community, but themselves. It is relying on themselves, building their own governance mechanisms, their own system that the Congolese will come out.
If in Kasai, Kinshasa people are hungry and revolt, is it Rwanda that is responsible for this situation? Where is the link ... If Congolese continue to seek out the causes of their problems, they still find it more difficult ... It’s themselves they must find solutions ...
Interviewed in Kigali August 29