The United States said last week it is “concerned” about a troop mutiny in the Democratic Republic of Congo and by “recent reports of outside support” for mutineers operating under the name M23.
But the US statement refrained from identifying Rwanda as the reported outside supporter of the M23 rebellion led by Gen Bosco Ntaganda.
While expressing support for the DRC’s recent move to arrest Ntaganda, the US did not explicitly call on Rwanda to aid those efforts, even though Rwandan military officials are said to be supplying the M23 leader with weapons and recruits.
Human Rights Watch, which last week cited evidence on the ground of a Rwanda-Ntaganda military link, reported witnesses’ claims that the M23 chief met with a Rwandan military officer on May 26 in a bar in Kingi, Rwanda — Ntaganda’s hometown.
The nuanced American position reflects two longstanding and sometimes contradictory policies: promoting stability in the DRC and relying on Rwanda as a key ally in central Africa.
The Obama administration remains reluctant to criticise Rwanda despite indications that Rwanda’s alleged support for M23 amounts to a case of “blowback” — a term applied when a nation’s actions frustrate its own interests.
Ntaganda’s mutiny is said to have left a military vacuum in parts of the eastern DRC that has been filled by the FDLR, a Hutu rebel group that the Rwandan government views as an existential threat.
“The FDLR and other militias were able to take new ground when soldiers joined Ntaganda’s mutiny and abandoned their military positions,” Human Rights Watch noted.
The State Department’s June 6 comment does reiterate US support for disarming and demobilising the FDLR, which is described as “a violent armed group responsible for atrocities against civilians in the DRC’s eastern provinces and whose leaders participated in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.”
At the same time, the US is making no reference to comparisons drawn between Ntaganda, known as “The Terminator,” and Lord’s Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony.
Fatou Bensouda, set to take over next week as chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, said recently that Ntaganda is “just as dangerous” as Kony, who is the target of a US-funded international hunt.
The ICC has charged both men with war crimes. Like Kony, Ntaganda is accused of abducting children and raping and massacring villagers. There is no likelihood, however, of the US organising and joining a military operation to track down Ntaganda, as it has done in regard to Kony.
Responding to intensive lobbying efforts by NGOs and some members of Congress, President Obama earlier this year dispatched 100 US combat advisors to help apprehend or kill Kony. In the absence of any similar pressures at home regarding Ntaganda, Obama will almost certainly avoid a second commitment of US military personnel to central Africa.
As to why Rwanda appears to be risking an FDLR resurgence on its border, independent analysts in Washington point in part to tribal allegiances. Ntaganda is a Tutsi, as are most leaders of the Rwandan government.
Money-making motives may also be spurring Rwanda’s apparent decision to help arm Ntaganda’s forces — in violation of a United Nations embargo — and to shield The Terminator from arrest.
As documented by the UN last year, powerful figures in Rwanda have profited from illicit exploitation of minerals in the eastern DRC. And it is suggested that these mining operations might not continue if DRC forces are able to exert control over areas now in Ntaganda’s hands.