Exclusive: Rwanda aids Burundi rebels, North Korea arms Congo - U.N. experts

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - A confidential report to the United Nations Security Council accuses Rwanda of providing training, financing and logistical support through early 2016 for Burundian rebels seeking to oust Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza.

Suspected fighters are paraded before the media by Burundian police near a recovered cache of weapons after clashes in the capital Bujumbura, Burundi December 12, 2015. REUTERS/Jean Pierre Aime Harerimana

A panel of six independent experts, appointed by the United Nations to monitor Security Council sanctions on Democratic Republic of Congo, had confidentially reported in February that 18 Burundian combatants in eastern Congo said they had been recruited in a refugee camp in Rwanda in mid-2015 and trained by instructors, who included Rwandan military personnel. Rwanda has repeatedly denied the claims.

In the experts latest report, seen by Reuters on Thursday and due to be discussed by the Security Council sanctions committee on Friday, they said “similar outside support continued through early 2016.”

“This took the form of training, financing and logistical support for Burundian combatants crossing from Rwanda to DRC,” the group of experts wrote in the report.

“The group met with Rwandan nationals, as well, who said they had been involved in the training of Burundian combatants or had been sent to the DRC to help support the Burundian opposition,” they said.

The findings contradict suggestions from Western officials in recent months who said any Rwandan support for Burundian rebels appeared to have ceased last year. The United States said it had raised concerns with Rwanda over reports it was meddling in Burundi.

Political violence has simmered in Burundi for a year after Nkurunziza pursued and won a third term. The crisis has sparked concerns it could spiral into an ethnic conflict in a region where memories of neighboring Rwanda’s 1994 genocide are fresh.

Burundi has an ethnic Hutu majority and Tutsi minority, the same split as in neighboring Rwanda.

The U.N. experts said they had presented their findings to the Rwandan government “which denied any involvement, noting it was ‘unaware of recruitment of Burundian refugees in Mahama (refugee) camp.’” Rwanda’s U.N. mission did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Some Security Council members want to deploy U.N. police to Burundi to help quell the violence and monitor the border between Burundi and Rwanda.

The U.N. experts also reported that several Congolese officers told them North Korea has supplied Congolese troops and police with pistols and sent 30 instructors to provide training for the presidential guard and special forces.

There is a U.N. arms embargo on North Korea that prevents Pyongyang from importing or exporting weapons and training. An arms embargo on Congo requires states to notify the Security Council sanctions committee of any arms sales or training.

The experts said they found that several Congolese army officers, as well as several police deployed abroad in a U.N. mission, appeared to have North Korean pistols.

The Congolese officers said the pistols were delivered by North Korea to the Congolese port of Matadi in early 2014. “The group also found that the same type of pistols was available for sale on the black market in Kinshasa,” the report said.

The experts said they had asked Pyongyang and Congo for information but had not yet received a response. Congolese and North Korean officials had no immediate comment.

Political tension is high in Congo, where opponents of President Joseph Kabila say he is trying to cling to power beyond the end of his mandate in 2016. Kabila has not commented on his future.

Additional reporting by Aaron Ross in Kinshasa; Editing by Bernard Orr