KAMPALA, Uganda – A new U.N. report that accuses the Rwandan military of commanding and supporting rebel forces in eastern Congo also charges that the brother of Uganda's long-serving president actively backs the movement.
Salim Saleh, 52, is a retired army general, a former Cabinet minister, a legendary bush-war fighter, and a businessman once implicated by the U.N. in the plunder of Congo's natural resources. But in Uganda Saleh, who is known to his family as Caleb Akandwanaho, is best known as President Yoweri Museveni's scandal-prone sibling, an intriguing figure for researchers and academics interested in a country that, like Rwanda, has a long history of meddling in the internal affairs of its vast western neighbor.
Okello Oryem, Uganda's deputy foreign minister, has described the charges against Uganda as "a heap of rubbish" and Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi has dismissed the report in an official response to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as the work of "amateurs or malicious actors dressed up as 'experts.'"
The U.N. Group of Experts, however, said Saleh is now "principally responsible for the support provided within the Ugandan armed forces to M23."
Saleh did not respond to a request for a comment.
The report, published on the U.N. website Wednesday, shows evidence of Uganda's alleged support for the Congolese rebels, including pictures of the houses in Kampala occupied by the rebels as well as intelligence documents linking some Ugandan military officers to the rebels. Other prominent Ugandans named in this regard include Lt. Gen. Kale Kayihura, the police chief, as well as Brig. Patrick Kankiriho, a senior army officer who commands Ugandan forces near the border with Congo.
The highly anticipated report from the U.N. Group of Experts said both Rwanda and Uganda have "cooperated to support the creation and expansion of the political branch of M23 and have consistently advocated on behalf of the rebels. M23 and its allies include six sanctioned individuals, some of whom reside in or regularly travel to Rwanda and Uganda."
"While Rwandan officials have coordinated the creation of the rebel movement and its major military operations, the more subtle support of Ugandan military officers has allowed the political branch of the rebel group to operate form Kampala and boost its external operations," the report said. "The limited assistance provided by officers within the Uganda People's Defense Forces to M23 has nevertheless been decisive in its seizure of principal towns in Rutshuru."
M23 is made up of hundreds of officers who deserted the Congolese army in April. Since then the rebels have occupied vast swaths of territory in mineral-rich eastern Congo, and their capture of Goma this week put pressure on President Joseph Kabila to negotiate with the rebels, who accuse his government of failing to honor the terms of a 2009 peace deal that incorporated them into the national army. The rebels took Goma without much of a battle, with the Congolese army fleeing in disarray and U.N. peacekeepers holding fire.
M23 rebels are threatening to march toward the Congolese capital of Kinshasa and then topple Kabila, who on Tuesday flew into Uganda for emergency talks with Rwandan President Paul Kagame and Museveni. Kabila said on Wednesday he is now willing to negotiate with the rebels.
The three presidents said in a joint statement released at the end of their talks in Kampala that they resolved to force M23 rebels to give up Goma and make a retreat.
"Even if there are legitimate grievances by the mutineering group known as M23, (the presidents) cannot accept the expansion of this war or entertain the idea of overthrowing the legitimate government of (Congo) or undermining its authority," the presidents' statement said.
Ugandan officials do not deny that representatives of M23 have been freely coming to Kampala in recent times, a fact cited in the U.N. report, but they say that the rebels visited Uganda for separate peace negotiations that Congolese officials were aware of. M23 rebels have been openly meeting with Ugandan Defense Minister Crispus Kiyonga, according to Oryem, the deputy minister of foreign affairs.
Uganda has threatened to pull its forces out of all peacekeeping operations in Africa, including in war-torn Somalia, if the U.N. officially publishes the experts' report. It remains to be seen if Uganda will act on this threat, but some analysts believe this will not be the case.
The U.N. experts say their indictment of Uganda is the result of ten investigative expeditions to the east African country and multiple interviews with government officials, diplomats, military officials, intelligence officials, and other knowledgeable sources. The report says M23 rebels are recruiting in Uganda with the support of Ugandan officials and that the rebels have procured weapons and ammunition from Ugandan army officers.