UK and the Netherlands withhold Rwanda budget aid

M23 rebels sit at the back of a pick-up truck - 15 July 2012 The UN is helping in an offensive against the M23 rebels

The UK and the Netherlands have joined the US in withholding aid to Rwanda over its alleged backing of rebels in Democratic Republic of Congo.

The UK government said it was delaying £16m ($25m) in budget support due this month while it considered whether aid conditions had been met.

Rwanda again rejected allegations in a UN report that it was supporting the M23 movement rebels in DR Congo.

Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo told the BBC it was "one sided".

The rebels mutinied from the Congolese army in April and some 200,000 people have fled their homes as a result of fighting.

Start Quote

It's a wake-up call for Rwanda... to figure out a way to sustain our development without being subjected to bullying and pressure from donors”

End Quote Louise Mushikiwabo Rwandan foreign minister

News of the further aid suspensions came as a senior UN official told the BBC that defecting Congolese rebels have confirmed that they were recruited in Rwanda.

On Thursday, the UN reported that its forces helped the Congolese army push the rebels out of two towns north of Goma using helicopter gunships and armoured vehicle.

Eastern DR Congo has been plagued by fighting since 1994, when more than a million ethnic Hutus crossed the border into DR Congo following the Rwandan genocide, in which some 800,000 people - mostly Tutsis - died.

Rwanda has twice invaded its much larger neighbour, saying it was trying to take action against Hutu rebels based in DR Congo. Uganda also sent troops into DR Congo during the 1997-2003 conflict.

'Non-existent evidence'

The brief UK announcement emerged after the Dutch foreign ministry confirmed it would no longer be making payments worth $6.15m (£3.9m) to Rwanda's aid budget until it had received reassurances from Kigali.

Troublesome neighbours

Map
  • April-June 1994: Genocide of Tutsis in Rwanda
  • June 1994: Paul Kagame's Tutsi rebels take power in Rwanda, Hutu fighters flee into Zaire (DR Congo)
  • Rwanda's army enters eastern Zaire to pursue Hutu fighters
  • 1997: Laurent Kabila's AFDL, backed by Rwanda, takes power in Kinshasa
  • 1998: Rwanda accuses Kabila of not acting against Hutu rebels and tries to topple him, sparking five years of conflict
  • 2003: War officially ends but Hutu and Tutsi militias continue to clash in eastern DR Congo
  • 2008: Tutsi-led CNDP rebels march on North Kivu capital, Goma - 250,000 people flee
  • 2009: Rwanda and DR Congo agree peace deal and CNDP integrated into Congolese army
  • 2012: Mutiny led by former CNDP leader Bosco "Terminator" Ntaganda

The Dutch money was being used to improve the country's judicial system - Dutch support for non-governmental organisations will continue.

The BBC's Anna Holligan in The Hague says the Dutch government is still awaiting a response from Rwanda and is in the process of talking to other European government about possible further action.

The UK government said its general budget support payment was being delayed while the government reviewed whether the expectations associated with the strict partnership principles surrounding the disbursement of aid are being met.

Total UK aid to Rwanda in the year 2012-13 is projected to be about $118m.

Mrs Mushikiwabo said any decision to suspend aid based on the UN report was "taken on evidence that does not exist" as she had explained to UN experts visiting Rwanda this week.

"More importantly I think it's a wake-up call for Rwanda and other aid recipient countries to actually start fending for ourselves and figure out a way to sustain our development without being subjected to bullying and pressure from donors," she told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme.

The Congolese rebels who took up arms in April named themselves M23 after a failed peace agreement signed with DR Congo's government on 23 March three years ago.

The rebellion is led by renegade general Bosco Ntaganda, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes.

He belongs to the Tutsi ethnic group like the top leadership in Rwanda, which fears the presence of rival Hutu militias in eastern DR Congo.

'Laughable'

Speaking off the record, a senior UN peacekeeping official told the BBC about the debriefing of 30 former members of the M23 movement.

The defectors said they had been recruited in Rwanda, but were then sent into DR Congo to find themselves fighting with the M23.

The UN official said this chimed with the UN's own observations of some rebels who are unlike the other Congolese troops who mutinied.

They are armed with weapons not used by the Congolese army, speak English - unlike most Congolese - have unusual uniforms and undertake night attacks - something the Congolese army does not do, the official said.

The UN says the M23 has grown in recent weeks - another sign that they are being reinforced.

Following the US cut of $200,000 in military aid, Stephen Rapp, head of the US Office of Global Criminal Justice warned on Wednesday that Rwanda's leadership, including Mr Kagame, could possibly face prosecution at the ICC over the current unrest.

"There is a line that one can cross under international law where you can be held responsible for aiding a group in a way that makes possible their commission of atrocities," the US ambassador for war crimes told the UK Guardian newspaper.

"I think you would have a situation where individuals who were aiding them from across the border could be held criminally responsible."

Mr Kagame has dismissed the article as irresponsible. He commented on his Twitter account that it was "laughable" and displayed "gross ignorance".

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