UNITED NATIONS, Nov 24 (Reuters) - Fighters from the former Rwandan Hutu army and its militia supporters have become significant players in the Democratic Congo, battling alongside President Laurent Kabila's forces, a new U.N. report said.
Many soldiers from the former Rwandan army, known as ex-FAR, and their Interahamwe militia allies, were implicated in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda in which more than 500,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were massacred.
"The situation in the region is rapidly heading for a catastrophe. The danger of the repetition of the tragedy comparable to the Rwandan genocide of 1994, but on a sub-regional stage, cannot be ruled out," Mahmoud Kassem of Egypt, the main author of the report, said on Monday.
He said some 20 rebel groups, in addition to those from Rwanda, are now operating in the region and forge links with other armed groups in Angola, Burundi, Uganda and elsewhere.
"But this time the rebel groups are not only aligned among themselves but they are aligned with governments who are using them for their own purposes," he said. "They have a kind of form of legitimacy they did not have before."
When the minority Tutsis took over Rwanda after the genocide, Hutu civilians and fighters fled to neighboring Congo, then Zaire. Once Kabila, with the help of the Rwandan Tutsi army came to power a year ago, the Hutus fled again.
But alliances changed rapidly in August when Congolese rebels, backed by Rwanda and Uganda, took up arms against Kabila. In turn, Angola, Namibia, Chad and Zimbabwe have deployed troops, tanks and planes to help Kabila.
The report by Kassem's Commission of Inquiry, which was commissioned by the Security Council in 1995 on how the Hutu fighters received weapons, said the new turmoil in the Congo had given Rwandan rebels am unexpected advantage.
"The ex-FAR and Interahamwe, once a defeated and dispersed remnant, have now become a significant component of the international alliance against the Congolese rebels and their presumed sponsors, Rwanda and Uganda," the report said.
In tracing the Rwandan rebels, the report said that hundreds of Hutus had been "openly recruited in Kinshasa" to fight for Kabila and some 10,000 others flooded into the country from refugee camps in the Central African Republic, the Congo Republic, Tanzania and elsewhere.
There was evidence, it said, they also were training in the Sudan and had received arms supplies from Khartoum. The Rwandans have forged close ties with Burundian Hutu rebels and have taken part in attacks against that country's Tutsi army.
But the turmoil also created strange bedfellows with some Rwandan rebels aligned with Angola's rebel UNITA movement, which opposed the Kabila government.
Kassem said in 1996 it was easier for his commission to trace weapons to governments in eastern Europe.
"But now so many governments are taking part and they supply them with money, arms and training," he said.
Nevertheless, the report said the French government had not yet examined South African arms dealer Willem Ehlers connection with the Banque National de Paris. Ehlers had long been cited in supplying arms to the Hutus.
Similarly, Bulgaria had not answered reports that two of its chartered air companies sent arms to the Rwandan rebels.
But Britain conceded that its Mil-Tec Corporation, registered in the Isle of Man, may have circumvented a 1994 U.N. arms embargo. It said the firm would not be prosecuted because British legislation at the time on the embargo did not cover neighboring countries, according to the report.
The commission traveled to Kenya, among many other countries, where the report said they suspected a sophisticated fund-raising and Rwandan intelligence network in Nairobi.
Some of the money also came from drug trafficking. The report said the Rwandans appeared to be involved in smuggling mandrax, an hallucinogenic drug, to South Africa from India and other Asian nations via Kenya.
The commission recommended that African nations adopt and enforce legislation against arms smuggling and initiate moratoriums on imports and trade in weapons.
It also said the European Union should make the price of joining the EU a commitment to monitor arms transfers to conflict zones.
But above all the commission said a regional solution to stop the various conflicts had to be found that included integrating the rebels groups back into society.
Otherwise, it said, "these arms, like the unemployed young men who bear them, cross borders rapidly and without hindrance to wreak havoc on the entire sub-region."
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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