Rwanda will today send yet another high-profile delegation to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) for further bilateral talks even as Kigali has openly expressed frustration that Kinshasa had undermined ongoing diplomatic efforts to resolve the renewed crisis in the country's east - by linking it to a new group of Congolese rebels.
What I can confirm is that the FDLR issue is serious and poses a major concern. But we are handling that bilaterally
Today's round of talks takes place right in the capital of North Kivu Province - Goma - where Congolese army are fighting the M23 rebels, composed of hundreds of mutineers who deserted the Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC), citing mistreatment and disregard of a previous peace deal.
The meeting, which will bring together the Minister of Defence Gen. James Kabarebe and the Chief of Defence Staff of the Rwanda Defence Forces (RDF), Lt. Gen. Charles Kayonga, and their Congolese counterparts, is the second high-level bilateral engagement in a period of less than 10 days since the one held last week in Kinshasa between the respective foreign ministers.
"Rwandan top defence and security officials attending the meeting in Goma, after the Kinshasa meeting of Foreign Affairs, is evidence of Rwanda's continued engagement of DRC to encourage a peaceful resolution of the prevailing conflict situation," Defence and Military Spokesperson, Brig. Gen. Joseph Nzabamwita told The New Times last evening.
Today's talks were scheduled during the June 18-19 foreign affairs meetings as part of a follow up to a joint verification mechanism set up by both sides to investigate claims that Kigali was behind the M23 rebels, explore possible joint operations against the FDLR militia which is holed up in the Congo, among other contentious issues.
Nonetheless, the Rwandan government has accused Kinshasa of undermining this bilateral process and instead "chosing to peddle false rumours against Rwanda", through a letter to the UN just moments after the closure of last week's dialogue in Kinshasa.
Addressing a news conference at the UN Headquarters in New York, Foreign minister Louise Mushikiwabo described the allegations as "disingenuous and regrettable". But the UN threw a spanner in the works yesterday when it published a Group of Experts report also accusing Rwanda of backing the Congolese rebels, which Mushikiwabo said was "one-sided" and lacked credible evidence. "It is deeply regrettable that the media frenzy over Rwanda's alleged involvement in the DRC has forced the hasty publication of an interim report without giving the (Rwandan) government the opportunity to analyse its contents and respond in a systematic fashion," she said.
"This is a one-sided preliminary document based on partial findings and is still subject to verification. The UN Group of Experts has accepted our invitation to Kigali to do what should have been done before; carry out relevant consultations and obtain the facts. We intend to provide factual evidence that the charges against Rwanda are false. These, as well as Rwanda's own allegations, will hopefully be reflected in the final UN report due in November."
In Goma, the defence ministers and military chiefs will examine a report by the Joint Verification Team (JVT), which held a preparatory meeting on June 26-27.
It also emerged that today's meeting will discuss Rwanda's concerns that the Congolese army was fighting alongside FDLR militia, which is composed of elements largely blamed for the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, as well as human rights violations in eastern Congo over the last 18 years.
Brig. Gen. Nzabamwita confirmed that the FDLR issue had been included in the Terms of Reference of the Joint Verification Team. He was, however, non committal on whether FDLR enjoyed the support of the Congolese government or individual FARDC officers as it has been alleged previously. "What I can confirm is that the FDLR issue is serious and poses a major concern. But we are handling that bilaterally," he said.
Speaking to The New Times, former FDLR officers and men, last week claimed the militia was in joint operations with FARDC against the M23 rebels - composed of members of the former CNDP and PARECO rebels who had joined the national army under a Rwanda-brokered deal in 2009.
The FDLR defectors claimed that the militant group has always been used as mercenaries whenever Congolese army was faced by a rebellion in the country's mainly lawless east.
And DRC's Minister of Communication, Lambert Mende, told this newspaper last week that his government had arrested and prosecuted several soldiers for working with the FDLR.
In 2009, Rwandan and Congolese armies mounted a short-lived joint operation against FDLR, which left the group weakened and disjointed, according to both Kigali and former FDLR fighters.
And, in today's meeting, it is hoped that the two sides will once again look to replicate that past success by planning another joint operation against the militia group, which was blasted under a UN-backed regional framework as a terrorist group as well as by the United States.
In addition, the ministers of defence and military chiefs will also look into allegations of harassment and torture of Rwandans in the Congo, according to Nzabamwita.
Last week, Rwanda accused DRC of "dumping" 11 young Rwandans along the common border of Rubavu after "beating and torturing them". The deportees have also claimed they were tortured by the Congolese military.
But Minister Mushikiwabo also warned against a broader "bigotry" campaign against Rwandans by some Congolese citizens, at home and abroad, and through media outlets that are close to the Kinshasa administration. "This is very reminiscent of the rhetoric just before the genocide against the Tutsi in 1994. Certainly Rwanda keeps a very close watch on that kind of pronouncements," she warned on Monday.
She sounded the same warning yesterday following the release of the UN Group of Experts report. "In our corner of the world, words quickly become deeds and anti-Rwanda rhetoric carries grave consequences...More hateful attacks can be feared as calls for Congolese worldwide to "kill the Tutsis" are being propagated over the internet."
Nonetheless, Mushikiwabo insisted Kigali was still committed to "peace and stability in the region".
Similarly, Nzabamwita dismissed suggestions today's talks would deliver little results given the prevailing conditions. "I don't think it's a futile effort, talking is definitely one of the measures to finding a peaceful settlement of the crisis. Rwanda remains committed to open engagement, but DRC has sovereign rights to continue engaging or not," he said.
Meanwhile, a delegation of some heads of African diplomatic missions in Rwanda yesterday visited Nkamira refugee camp in Rubavu District, where the Congolese refugees talked of human rights abuses by the Congolese army, FDLR and the UN Stabilisation Mission in the Congo (MONUSCO).
Another year for MONUSCO
The diplomats urged Kinshasa to protect its citizens equally.
More than 13,000 refugees have arrived in Rwanda over the last two months.
And, in a related development, the United Nations Security Council yesterday extended, by a year, MONUSCO mandate - to June 30, 2013.
The mission was back in the headlines for all the wrong reasons last week after former FDLR fighters alleged it provided food supplies to the militia group in February.
For most of its 13 years of existence in the eastern Congo, MONUSCO (formerly MONUC) has found itself on the defensive with a series of stinging allegations, including trading arms and ammunitions for gold, ivory and drugs with the FDLR militia, as well as rape - which were first exposed by a BBC investigation in April 2008.
Rwanda has also largely blamed the 20,000-strong and world's largest mission for the continued mess in the eastern DRC, with President Paul Kagame last week questioning the rationale of allocating it a whopping US$1.2 budget a year.