A confidential report to the United Nations Security Council accuses Rwanda of recruiting and training rebels from Burundian refugees with the aim of fighting and ousting Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza, Reuters reported on Wednesday.
The report, which was filed by a committee that monitors sanctions imposed on the Democratic Republic of Congo, is strongest claim to date that Rwanda is interfering in Burundi’s affairs amid concerns that political turmoil in the country could escalate into a bloody ethnic conflict.
Several rebel fighters told the monitoring committee that the training was carried out in a forest camp in Rwanda, the report said.
Experts from the committee said they have contacted at least 18 Burundian rebels in south Kivu Province in the east of the DRC.
"They all told the group that they had been recruited in the Mahama Refugee Camp in eastern Rwanda in May and June 2015 and were given two months of military training by instructors, who included Rwandan military personnel," according to the report.
The Burundian rebels, including six children, told the UN committee they were trained in military tactics, use of assaults weapons and machine guns, grenades, anti-tank mines, mortars and rocket propelled grenades.
"They were transported around Rwanda in the back of military trucks, often with Rwandan military escort," the UN experts wrote. "They reported that their ultimate goal was to remove Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza from power."
Burundi and Rwanda have almost the same ethnic composition of about 85 percent Hutus and 15 percent Tutsis. Burundi experienced a bloody 12-year civil war which lasted until 2005 and pitted a Tutsi-led army against Hutu rebel groups.
Rwandan Ambassador to the UN Eugene Gasana dismissed the accusations against Kigali in the report and told Reuters, "This further undermines the credibility of the Group of Experts, which seems to have extended its own mandate, but apparently investigating Burundi."
The UN report did not say why the Burundian fighters had crossed into the Democratic Republic of Congo.
"The Burundian combatants showed the group fake DRC identification cards that had been produced for them in Rwanda, so they could avoid suspicion while in the DRC," the report said.
In December, Burundi accused Rwanda of supporting a rebel group that was recruiting Burundian refugees inside Rwanda but Rwandan President Paul Kagame rejected the accusation, calling it “childish.”
Last month the UN Security Council estimated the death toll from civil disorder in Burundi to be 439, but said it could be higher. More than 240,000 people have fled abroad amid a political and financial crisis in the country.