A Group of United Nations Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo have uncovered evidence indicating that Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza is arming Rwanda National Congress [RNC] rebels to overthrow the Kigali government of President Paul Kagame.
In their report after two field visits to the Democratic Republic of the Congo between September and October 2018, the experts found that an armed group active in Fizi and Uvira territories and associated with Rwandan opposition groups benefited from local and external support for the recruitment of its combatants.
The Group confirmed that most of the arms and ammunition used by the armed group were transferred from Burundi, but it could not confirm the identities of the individuals and entities involved.
Kayumba Nyamwasa’s “P5” rebels
Armed movement associated with the Rwanda National Congress and Ngomino. The Group investigated armed group activities in the Hauts Plateaux of Fizi and Uvira territories in South Kivu.
The Group found that a widespread recruitment network was established that benefited from local and external support.
In September 2018, the Group separately interviewed 12 ex-combatants. They all told the Group that Shaka Nyamusaraba was the commander of the armed group, which included both foreign combatants, most of Rwandan origin, and Congolese Banyamulenge.
They also told the Group that they had received a briefing during which the armed group was called “P5”, the Rwanda National Congress or “the group of Kayumba Nyamwasa”. Several ex-combatants informed the Group that Nyamwasa frequently travelled to the region.
The Group could not confirm the information and requested the assistance of South Africa. The latter has not yet responded to the request. Nyamusaraba was previously known as the leader of the local armed group Ngomino.
Several ex-combatants provided consistent testimonies regarding a recruitment network, directed from Bujumbura, that enabled recruiting from several African countries, often through facilitators based in East, Central and Southern Africa as well as Western Europe, to Bijabo in Fizi territory.
Recruitment strategies varied from phone calls and face-to-face meetings to social media. According to all interviewed ex-combatants, the main recruiter was a man called “Rashid”, also known as “Sunday/Sunde Charles”.
He was reported to be the leading communication link between field recruiters, recruits and commanders (in particular Nyamusaraba) based in Bijabo.
Rashid covered the cost of travel for the foreign recruits who travelled from other countries to his house in Bujumbura.
Once at the house, recruits were asked to surrender all personal items, including identity cards, money and phones, and to prepare to go to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The large majority of the ex-combatants described a very similar modus operandi. Recruiters or facilitators transported them to Bujumbura, where Rashid smuggled parties of 25 to 30 new recruits to the Democratic Republic of the Congo on motorized pirogues crossing Lake Tanganyika, or on rafts crossing the Ruzizi River.
Upon reaching the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the recruits were taken to the heights of the Hauts Plateaux to the movement’s base in Bijabo, inside the Bijombo forest. The arrival of new recruits appeared to have taken place at least once a month for most of the first eight months of 2018.
All of the interviewed ex-combatants told the Group that they had been deceived by acquaintances or distant relatives. They believed they were getting jobs in Bujumbura.
Most of them were originally from Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda. At least one had been recruited from Malawi. Ex-combatants told the Group that some combatants, many still in Bijabo, had been recruited from Kenya, the United Republic of Tanzania, South Africa and Mozambique.
Location, organization and leaders
Ex-combatants, civil society actors and FARDC officers indicated that the movement comprised a local group, Ngomino, and a few hundred foreign combatants, primarily of Banyamulenge or Rwandan origin.
The combatants were often separated into four units, with three main positions known as Alpha, Bravo and Delta “battalions” manned by roughly 120 armed men each.
The three defensive positions were spaced around Bijabo, where the movement’s headquarters were located. Based on interviews with 10 recent defectors, the Group assessed that by September 2018, the movement numbered around 400 mostly armed and trained members.
New recruits were subjected to military training, lasting from four to six weeks, that included weapon assembly and assault tactics. Several ex-combatants explained that the trainers, who spoke Kinyarwanda, described themselves as former Rwandan military.
The trainers also told the recruits that the leader of their movement was Kayumba Nyamwasa. According to several ex-combatants, Nyamusaraba was in frequent contact by phone with sources outside the Democratic Republic of the Congo, especially in Burundi.
Nyamusaraba was known to receive all new recruits and personally informed them that P5 was “Kayumba Nyamwasa’s group”. Nyamusaraba told the new recruits that the aim of P5 was to liberate Rwanda.
However, all of the interviewed ex-combatants stated that they had never attacked Rwanda but instead attacked what they thought were Burundian rebel groups active within the Congolese territory, especially the Forces nationales de libération, led by Aloys Nzabampema, and the Résistance pour un état de droit au Burundi (RED Tabara), as well as some Mai-Mai factions.
All of the ex-combatants stated that the P5 combatants were on good terms with the local Banyamulenge population in the vicinity of Bijabo.
Some described having received food from local civilians while others said they were afraid to flee the base because they suspected the local communities around Bijabo would deliver them back to the P5 commanders.
One ex-combatant said that a small weekly market near Bijabo was controlled by Nyamusaraba himself, who levied small taxes on the food market traders.
Several ex-combatants interviewed by the Group stated that P5 received supplies, including weapons and ammunition, food, medicines, boots and uniforms, from Burundi.
Ex-combatants were consistent in saying that Rashid, the main recruiter, was also in charge of providing supplies, which were often delivered in the same pirogues that transported recruits from Burundi to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Most of them described almost monthly deliveries of medicine and food, and that at least once Rashid made the journey from Burundi to Bijabo, in early 2018, to ensure the supplies were delivered intact.
Arms transfers from Burundi in violation of arms embargo
Twelve ex-combatants told the Group that in February, April and June 2018, various quantities of weapons and ammunition were delivered to the P5 combatants in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Three ex-combatants stated that they received eight AK-type assault rifles in February 2018 while also receiving 18 new combatants from Burundi.
Two ex-combatants reported that they had received 3 machine guns and 15 rocket-propelled grenades for a rocket-propelled grenade launcher (an RPG-7) in April 2018.
One ex-combatant explained that another batch of weapons and ammunition had been delivered near Lusenda from Lake Tanganyika.
The shipment included three PK machine guns, two rocket-propelled grenade launchers and one small machine gun, while the remainder were AK-type rifles.
Ammunition came in both boxes and bags and was well packed. Three ex-combatants stated that another batch of weapons was delivered in June 2018, comprising 9 machine guns, 100 grenades, 45 AK-type rifles, 8 rocket propelled grenade launchers, 30 rocket-propelled grenades and approximately 30 boxes of ammunition.
Close to 40 people transported the weapons. Each of them carried one weapon, one box of ammunition, one belt of ammunition and two grenades.
The weapons were brought from Burundi to the Democratic Republic of the Congo through Rumonge.
The Group could not confirm the names of the individuals and entities involved in the delivery, and intends to continue its investigations in the lead-up to its final report.
Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa is a Rwandan former Lieutenant general who formerly was the Chief of Staff of the Rwandan Army from 1998 to 2002.
He was also head of Rwandan intelligence from 1998 to 2002 and served as Rwanda’s ambassador to India between 2004 and 2010.