Residents of Sake flee fighting between M23 rebels and government troops in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. Photograph: Dai Kurokawa/EPA
Evidence of Rwandan state support for M23 rebels ‘credible and compelling’, ministers say
British aid for Rwanda may be cut next month after ministers admitted there was “credible and compelling” evidence of Rwandan state support for rebels operating in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
The rebels, known as the M23, conquered the eastern Congolese town of Goma this week, triggering an exodus of thousands of civilians and fears of a humanitarian crisis.
The UN’s envoy, Roger Meece, said there had been numerous reports of rebels carrying out “summary executions of those who stand in their way” since they seized the town.
Human rights activists and UN observers said evidence of significant Rwandan involvement in the M23 insurrection had been clear for a long time. If the UK had acted earlier, it could have stopped the current offensive.
Rwanda is one Britain’s closest partners in sub-Saharan Africa but after a report by a UN experts group on the fighting was presented on Wednesday, William Hague, the foreign secretary, and Justine Greening, the international development secretary, said: “We judge the overall body of evidence of Rwandan involvement with M23 in the DRC to be credible and compelling. We will be studying the implications of this report in full, but these allegations will necessarily be a key factor in future aid decisions to the government of Rwanda.”
A decision on the next tranche of Â£21m in UK aid to Rwanda is due to made next month. Britain suspended the last tranche of Â£16m in July after an interim UN report pointed to Rwanda’s role as an M23 backer. Greening’s predecessor, Andrew Mitchell, reinstated the aid on his last day at the Department of International development in September, sending Â£8m as direct budgetary support and diverting the other half to specific development programmes.
On Thursday the M23 rejected a call from regional leaders to leave Goma, insisting it would stay until the president of the DRC, Joseph Kabila, agreed to talks. Amid reports of a government counter-offensive, Oxfam said that as many as 120,000 people were in urgent need of aid.
Carina Tertsakian of Human Rights Watch welcomed the British decision but described it as long overdue. “The British government has been solidly behind Rwanda all along and this is coming very, very late. Meanwhile the M23 has been steadily building momentum.”
A UN source said: “The mixed message from the UK obviously emboldened the Rwandans. They probably thought they could get away with it. They were delivering equipment and new uniforms in the run-up to this offensive, so it is no surprise.”
Ivan Lewis, Labour spokesman on international development, said: “Greening should make it clear now that no further budget support payments will be made to the Rwandan government until they end all support for all militia activity in eastern DRC. This week’s developments are further evidence that Andrew Mitchell’s decision to reinstate budget support to Rwanda sent entirely the wrong message and was an act of enormous folly.”
On the same day Hague and Greening issued their statement on the evidence of the Rwandan role in the conflict, the Foreign Office issued a photograph [http://www.flickr.com/photos/paulkagame/8207385997/in/set-72157632069538255/] of Britain’s Africa minister, Mark Simmonds, shaking hands with a smiling Rwandan president, Paul Kagame. A Foreign Office spokesman denied that London was sending mixed messages, saying Simmonds was seeking to offer British support for the regional effort to end the fighting.
After the meeting Simmonds welcomed a joint communique said: “I call on the M23 to stop its advance and to withdraw from Goma immediately. This would benefit the people of the DRC, and is the will of the governments of the region, and the whole international community.”