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Congo's latest war fueled by sales of "conflict minerals"

Rebel FDLR and Congo army both financed by income from coltan and other minerals.

The report also detailed how some Congolese army officers provide the rebels with arms even as their own troops are fighting to defeat them.

The 17,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping mission, MONUC, comes in for criticism for backing the Congolese army in the latest offensive against the rebels. The campaign started in March and is known as Kimia II. The U.N. report talks of “the possible contradiction” between the U.N.’s mandate to protect civilians and its support of the Congolese army which it says “continues to commit abuses against the civilian population, and conducts military operations in disregard of protection of civilians and for humanitarian law.”

New York-based Human Rights Watch has catalogued a litany of rapes, murders and forced displacements committed this year by Congo’s national army as well as various rebel groups.

The pressure is mounting against the FDLR. Last month its top leaders were arrested in Germany and charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in eastern Congo.

Ignace Murwanashyaka and Straton Musoni await trial in a German court but their arrest alone is a blow to the FDLR as one recently defected fighter admitted to during a recent interview at a repatriation camp in Goma.

“We feel very, very bad because of the arrests. Ignace was our leader,” Innocent Rakundo told GlobalPost. The 35-year old FDLR corporal said he deserted the rebel group soon after the arrests, fed up with being hunted through the forests and shot at. He now hopes to return to Rwanda for the first time since fleeing Kagame’s forces in the aftermath of the genocide.

It is not just the rank-and-file who acknowledge the impact of the recent arrests. In a telephone conversation, Laforge Fils, the group’s spokesman in North Kivu, said: “The arrests are unjust and not justified.”

“It shows that the international community doesn’t want to respond to the wishes of the people of the Great Lakes region,” he said with a wounded tone in his voice. “The problem of insecurity in this region is to be found inside Rwanda but instead of solving the problem at its source they want to solve it superficially.”

He repeated calls for dialogue with Kagame, something the Rwandan leader has ruled out.

U.N. officials in charge of trying to persuade FDLR fighters such as Rakundo to lay down their weapons concede that for all their successes — over 100 rebels deserted last month — the group continues to recruit both volunteers and conscripts meaning its estimated strength is thought to have remained stable at perhaps 6,000 to 8,000.

Although its movement is constrained it still has strongholds dotted about the provinces that border Lake Kivu. One is just a few miles outside the city of Goma on the slopes of the Nyiragongo volcano whose lava flows cut through the city in 2002.

Intrepid tourists used to make the arduous trek up to the crater’s edge to stare transfixed into the lava lake below. Last year Nkunda’s armed men prowled this wild landscape, now it is the FDLR once again.

The groups may change but for the Congolese people the insecurity remains the same.

Editor's note: This story was updated to remove a reference to a U.S. company named in the U.N. report on conflict minerals. Click here for more details on this correction.