By Jonny Hogg
KINSHASA (Reuters) - Former rebels have been promoted to senior posts in Democratic Republic of Congo's military in return for supporting President Joseph Kabila's re-election effort, the United Nations said in a report on Friday.
The finding could deepen divisions within the army and add to doubts over the credibility of the November 28 poll, which was marred by violence and described by Kabila's opponents as fraudulent, although endorsed by the Supreme Court.
The government has been integrating former rebels into the army, the FARDC, in a bid to curb rebellion.
Since February, Congo's senior military have been trying to reduce tensions by cementing the chain of command and eliminating loyalties based on rebel groupings.
But the U.N. report by the Group of Experts, a committee established to monitor the situation in Congo, found that this process had been "hijacked" by former rebels.
Bosco Ntaganda, a former rebel who is currently an FARDC general despite being wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes, has managed to secure senior posts for his men in return for backing Kabila's re-election effort, the 127-page report said.
Ntaganda was previously allied to the CNDP, a Rwandan-backed group that fought against Kabila.
"Ntaganda has secured changes to FARDC restructuring in his favour, in return for the CNDP joining President Kabila's electoral alliance," the report said.
That backing may have involved the use of the military to intimidate voters into casting ballots for Kabila, it added.
The local observer group SOPROP said it had seen a "massive (...) presence of heavily armed soldiers" in parts of eastern Congo, where Ntaganda and his allies wield considerable influence, and that people were pressured to vote for Kabila.
Kabila's percentage of the vote was far higher in these areas than elsewhere, a member of the Group of Experts told Reuters, asking not to be named.
"Clearly there was a deal in place ... This shows (electoral support) was part of that deal."
The report also says Ntaganda controls a key minerals smuggling route to Rwanda.
Ntaganda's rise within the army has left other groups marginalized and disgruntled, leading to assassinations, desertions and the re-establishment of links with rebel movements, according to the report.
Government spokesman Lambert Mende denied the report's accusations.
"These are comments, not facts. We are not interested in people's comments. This is the way we are organizing our army, there is no link at all to the election," he said.
More than eight years after the end of a civil war and despite the presence of around 17,000 U.N. peacekeepers, some rebel groups continue to fight the government and target civilians in the mountainous east.
They often use weapons and ammunition bought or captured from the Congolese military, said the report.
Kabila has faced widespread criticism for his failure to bring stability to eastern Congo 10 years after coming to power.
(Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Alessandra Rizzo)