Citing what they termed is a "leaked" memo from the UN Stabilization Mission in the Congo (MONUSCO), last week the BBC and the New York Times claimed that Rwanda is secretly supporting the M23 rebel movement in eastern Congo. Both media organizations reported that eleven deserters from the M23 showed up at a UN base claiming they had been recruited and trained in Rwanda. Neither publication produced an actual memo, nor did they quote sources. The memo was cited around the world as "fact," with no supporting documentation. The result was a vehement denial by Rwanda's Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo, who said claims that Rwandans were transferred to eastern Congo to fight for the rebels are "categorically false and dangerous."
Eastern Kivu 2009 Photo by G. Nienaber
Google "M23 Congo" and it is obvious that accounts of the leaked report have gone viral. But is it correct? Does the report exist? What, exactly, does it say?
The latest comment from the UN says the BBC got it wrong.
U.N. spokesman Penangnini Toure told Voice of America (VOA) that the UN report resulted from a "routine interrogation of the 11 men who had presented themselves to the UN and asked to be repatriated to Rwanda."
"That's all we reported and that's where it stops. The U.N. did not produce a report saying that Rwanda is directly involved in what is happening in eastern Congo," said Toure.
SAPA also reported that there was no evidence Rwanda recruited the "mutineers."
The United Nations on Wednesday confirmed 11 Rwandans had been recruited to join army mutineers in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, but said there was no evidence the Rwandan government played any role.
International media has not reported the UN denial of reportage of UN statements by the BBC and the New York Times.
Is the phantom "leaked memo" simply dangerous gamesmanship promoted by the international press? Remember it was the BBC that erroneously reported the arrest of CNDP General Laurent Nkunda a week prior to his detention in Rwanda in 2009. As a result, the BBC effectively aided and abetted a coup facilitating the installation of wanted warlord Bosco (Terminator) Ntaganda as a General in the Congolese army.
As the reports of the leaked memo spread exponentially via the internet and social media, an already strained relationship between The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Rwanda has been tested and tensions have spilled over into Congo's Parliament. Opposition lawmakers want any discussion of relations with Rwanda to be debated in public, to avoid the appearance of any "secret deals."
"The call for an open debate comes after an escalation of violence in eastern Congo over the past two months. Some Congolese politicians say that Rwanda is backing a rebel group, the M23, made up of mutineers from the Congolese army," VOA reported.
On Wednesday May 30, the president of the assembly ruled that debate would require a closed session. A number of opposition MPs walked out.
On the same day as the walk-out, Radio Okapi (UN) reported that MONUSCO refused to confirm or refute the involvement of Rwanda in the conflict in eastern DRC.
The "leaked memo" is beginning to look more and more like a propaganda trial balloon that has sprung a leak. It may have been MONUSCO's attempt to cover its failures in eastern Congo by blaming Rwanda for the latest insurgencies. Or it may have been a low level staffer trying to curry favor with the international press.
A more likely scenario has the Congolese government trying to rev up international outrage against Rwanda as Congo sees control of the east deteriorating through defections within its own army (FARDC), and increased rebel and militia presences in the Kivus.
In a May 22 press conference, Roger Meece, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for the Democratic Republic of the Congo continued to claim that MONUSCO was protecting civilians. He repeated this claim in a video conference to reporters.