GOMA, DRC – The United States is suspending military aid to Rwanda in response to the country’s support of the M23 Congolese rebel group, which actively recruits and abducts children to become child soldiers. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, an assistant to the US Secretary of State, said: “Our goal is to work with countries that have been listed to ensure that any involvement in child soldiers, any involvement in the recruitment of child soldiers, must stop.” The Rwandan government has denied that it supports the M23 rebels while the opposition party praised the US decision to impose sanctions.
M23—short for the March 23 Movement—is a militia group that is engaged in an ongoing conflict against the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Many of the organization’s commanders have a history of human rights abuse, including General Bosco Ntaganda, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The rebels have been accused of massacring civilians, raping women, and executing child soldiers who have attempted to flee the ranks of the militia.
In 2012, Human Rights Watch conducted an investigation, which revealed that the Rwandan army was deploying troops to the eastern side of Congo to provide direct assistance to the M23 rebels. According to the report, Rwandan military officials also helped recruit children, some of whom were under the age of 15. Congolese and Rwandans living in the border region told HRW that they frequently saw the movement of Rwandan troops into and out of the Congo, presumably providing support to the rebels. Though the Rwandan government claims no connection or support for M23, these accounts beg to differ.
Though the Rwandan government is denying involvement with M23 rebel group, a report issued by the United Nations in November of 2012 contained ample evidence that the militia was receiving direct assistance from the Rwanda Defense Force (RDF). According to the report, more than 1,000 members of the RDF fought alongside the M23, many wearing uniforms similar to those used by the RDF. With mounting evidence of Rwanda’s involvement with M23, the US had little choice but to suspend military aid to the region and to the suspect government.
But the question remains: what affect, if any, will this have on the fighting in the Eastern Congo? The United Nations is urging peace talks between the rebels and Congolese officials. In recent months, more than 130,000 Congolese have been displaced due to the fighting in and around the city of Goma, where the violence has been most concentrated.
The US and UN continue to support peacekeeping efforts and officials have said that peace talks may begin soon in the Ugandan capital of Kampala.