- child soldiers - DR Congo - Rwanda - United Nations
AFP - An advisor to Rwandan President Paul Kagame and a member of the Congolese opposition, both wealthy businessmen, have been cited in a UN report as key financial backers of rebels in eastern DR Congo.
The report by UN experts claims Kigali has supported ethnic Tutsi rebels led by ex-general Laurent Nkunda in the Democratic Republic of Congo -- a charge denied by Rwanda on Saturday.
It also cites "extensive collaboration" between Congolese government troops and Hutu rebels of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) as well as with Mai Mai militia.
According to the UN document, which was published Friday, Rwandan presidential advisor Tribert Rujugiro Ayabatwa has bankrolled Nkunda's movement in the mineral-rich DR Congo and met frequently with rebel leaders in 2006.
Besides acting as an unofficial Kagame aide, Rujugiro is the founder of the Rwandan Investment Bank, a private entity that enjoys government support, the report says.
Rwandan media describe him as the country's richest man with interests in a myriad of economic sectors, running from energy to tea and property.
He also owns several farms in an area of eastern DR Congo's restive Nord-Kivu province.
The report cited official documents showing Rujugiro had authorised a senior member of Nkunda's National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) to use one of his farms.
It described a June e-mail to Rujugiro in which the rebel member, Colonel Innocent Gahizi, said "the material" and "the men were ready" to advance to an unspecified town.
In August, fighting resumed in Nord-Kivu between the rebels and the government of Congolese President Joseph Kabila, with rebels advancing to the doors of the provincial capital, Goma.
In another e-mail the previous year, Rujugiro thanked some of his employees based in Dubai for dealing with a 120,000-dollar (90,000-euro) payment to "soldiers (of) our friend Laurent N."
Rujugiro also was among the leading financial backers of Kagame's Rwandan Patriotic Front during that country's 1990-1994 civil war, but his current ties with the president are more ambiguous.
In October, he was arrested in London on a warrant issued by a South African judge on suspicion of large-scale fiscal fraud. Extradition efforts are under way.
DR Congo has long accused Rwanda of supporting Nkunda's rebel group, but the neighbouring nations have vowed to pursue efforts to normalise ties that were suspended in 1998.
In a televised speech Saturday, Kabila said he wanted to "end the real or presumed disagreement with some neighbours" to "reduce the areas of violence and looting in the region, made easy for a long time by the absense of communication between states."
Like Rujugiro, the other man cited in the UN report -- Raphael Soriano -- is also sought for alleged embezzlement, this time by the British government.
UN experts accuse him of financing the CNDP as well as another Tutsi rebel group operating in Sud-Kivu province, which neighbours Nord-Kivu. In 2006, 25,000 dollars was transferred from Soriano's wife's account to that of Nkunda's wife, the experts said.
Going by the alias Katebe Katoto, Soriano is "a rich Congolese opposition member from the (southeastern) Katanga province," who made his fortune in fisheries and has taken Belgian nationality, the report said.
British justice claims he collaborated in the disappearance of millions of dollars of Zambian public funds.
Unlike Rujugiro, Soriano has not played a major role in Congolese politics, but has been active behind the scenes.
In 2003, he served briefly as vice-president of the Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD), a Rwandan-backed rebel group, before moving to the Belgian city of Bruges.