Jerome Starkey, Africa Correspondent
Britain’s decision to continue giving aid to Rwanda appeared increasingly isolated yesterday after the European Union froze a £140 million programme over allegations that President Kagame’s Government is supporting human rights abusers.
Rwanda has repeatedly denied arming the “M23” rebels in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, but Sweden, the Netherlands and the United States all cut their aid to the country when a team of United Nations experts accused the President of providing covert military support.
Human rights groups have accused the M23 of committing war crimes, including rape, murder and the forced recruitment of child solders. “It was agreed to freeze the programme of budgetary assistance and to not agree to any supplementary budgetary credit for Rwanda without them giving signs of co-operating,” Jean-Michel Dumond, the EU’s Ambassador in Kinshasa, told Radio Okapi on Monday.
Britain, which is the largest bilateral donor to the small central African country, put £16 million of its Rwandan aid on hold after the allegations surfaced in June. But the Government backtracked six weeks later, claiming that President Kagame was “constructively” trying to solve the crisis.
Andrew Mitchell, then Britain’s Minister for International Development, said Britain would “partially restore its general budget support for Rwanda” in recognition of its progress towards tackling the rebellion.His assessment was at odds with many of Britain’s allies as well as independent investigators.
Anneke Van Woudenberg, senior Africa Researcher for Human Rights Watch, accused the British government of wishful thinking.
“The M23 rebels are committing a horrific trail of new atrocities in eastern Congo,” she said in a statement. “M23 commanders should be held accountable for these crimes, and the Rwandan officials supporting these abusive commanders could face justice for aiding and abetting the crimes.” President Kagame, who dismissed the UN report as rubbish, was due to hold crisis talks with Congo’s Joseph Kabila yesterday on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has urged both men them to find a solution, but hopes of a deal remain modest after Mr Kabila used his address to the UN point the finger at Rwanda.
“Children are deprived of school and forced to bear and use firearms to kill their fellow humans, even their own brothers and sisters,” he said.
David Cameron and the Department for International Development(DfID) have both defended President Kagame, despite widespread allegations of abuse. Last year Scotland Yard said Rwanda sent a hit-squad to murder two prominent dissidents living in the UK.The leaders of the M23 rebels are from the same ethnic Tutsi group which controls Rwanda’s government. In the past Rwandahas used similar proxy forces to battle remnants of the interhamwe — mostly Hutu perpetrators of the 1994 genocide — who fled into DRC and formed the FDLR rebel group.
Rwanda relies of foreign aid for roughly 40 percent of its budget, but President Paul Kagame announced the start of a “dignity fund” last month to wean his country of foreign support.