Rwanda FM slams claims it supports Congo rebels

June 25, 2012 - 5:45 PM

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Rwanda's foreign minister on Monday dismissed claims that senior security officials are supporting the rebellion in the eastern Congo, saying that her country is being used as a "scapegoat" for its neighbor's bloody conflict.

Louise Mushikiwabo denied allegations that high-ranking defense and military officials are aiding the rebellion in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The claims were reported by Reuters, which quoted a recent closed briefing by the U.N. Group of Experts to a U.N. sanctions committee.

"Of course, Rwanda's top army leadership in no way would be involved in destroying the peace they have been working very hard to build," Mushikiwabo said at a news conference, citing Rwanda's capture of Congolese rebel leader Laurent Nkunda that led a 2009 peace agreement in the D.R.C.

"So far we have had report after report of allegations, but evidence has been very hard to come by," she said.

Last week, the Congolese government sent a letter to the U.N. Security Council complaining of Rwandan involvement in its conflict.

Mushikiwabo defended Rwanda's nomination by the African Union for a temporary spot on the Security Council, which has drawn criticism from some human rights groups. Mushikiwabo said Congo is creating a distraction and Rwanda is being made into a "scapegoat" for its neighbor's internal problems.

An interim report submitted Friday by the U.N. Group of Experts makes no mention of the claims that Rwanda is supporting the rebels in the Congo.

Eastern Congo has been engulfed in fighting since the 1994 Rwanda genocide, in which at least 500,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered by Hutu militias before a Tutsi-led rebel army took power. More than a million Hutus fled across the border into the Congo, and Rwanda twice invaded to take action against Hutu militias.

The most recent wave of violence flared when a new rebel group known as M23, who were former rebels from the Tutsi ethnic group linked to Gen. Bosco Ntaganda, claimed that they weren't being paid and that the government had failed to hold up their end of the 2009 peace deal that integrated them into the army. Ntaganda is wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court and had been living freely and wearing the stripes of a Congolese army general but is now being pursued by the government.

The Congolese military launched an offensive in April against the M23 mutineers.

Last month, the United Nations said that 11 people claiming to be defectors from the new Congolese rebel group turned up at a U.N. peacekeeping base saying they were Rwandans who thought they were being recruited for the Rwandan army.

At the time, Mushikiwabo dismissed as "categorically false and dangerous" claims that Rwandans recruited and trained for the Rwandan army had instead been transferred to eastern Congo to fight for the rebels.

The Security Council on June 15 called for a "full investigation of credible reports of outside support to the armed groups" in Congo.

On Monday, Mushikiwabo warned that some websites and media linked to Congolese government were spreading bigotry against Rwandans.

"This is very reminiscent of the rhetoric just before the genocide in 1994," she said.

Congo's mission to the U.N. did not return calls seeking comment.