The New Times (Kigali)

30 November 2012

Rwanda: Govt 'Disappointed' By Britain Aid Freeze

The UK is withholding a U.S.$34 million aid payment to Rwanda over allegations it's behind the current violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo. ( Resource: UK Withholds Aid Payment to Rwanda

The government yesterday said it was disappointed by the UK's decision to freeze budget support to Rwanda since it is based on a highly controversial report by a UN appointed Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The decision, announced by British International Development Secretary, Justine Greening, was premised on the report which accuses Rwanda of backing the M23 rebels opposed to the government in Kinshasa.

"Leveraging aid and development funds to punish or reward the perceived conduct of recipients, or to placate domestic critics, is contrary to the partnership philosophy that has helped make the collaboration between Rwanda and the UK among the most successful of its kind," Foreign Affairs minister Louise Mushikiwabo said yesterday.

Rwanda is widely credited for its efficient use of development aid and UK is its single largest bilateral donor. The biggest portion of British aid is channeled through the government's general budget.

Greening announced that she was withholding the next tranche of aid totaling to 21 million UK Pounds (about Rwf21 billion), which was due for disbursement in December.

Yesterday, Kigali insisted it had no links with the M23 rebel movement, which started in April, after soldiers from a previous rebellion mutinied accusing the DRC government of breaking the terms of a 2009 peace deal that had integrated them into the army.

"False, politically-motivated allegations against Rwanda serve the purposes of those who would rather ignore their responsibilities and not face up to the complex governance and security challenges that have afflicted the DRC over many decades," Mushikiwabo, who is also the Government Spokesperson said.

"Repetition of false accusations does not make them factual".

The controversial UN report, which was officially published last week, was compiled by a group led by Steve Hege, a man Rwanda accuses of hostility towards the government, partly due to his previous writings in which he made the case for the Congo-based Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) militias.

FDLR is an internationally blacklisted terrorist group largely blamed for the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, and which is also accused of gross human rights abuses in the Congo.

In one of his articles, Hege portrayed the FDLR as the victims, suggesting that international opinion would ultimately "sour" on Kigali.

"This action harms Rwanda and does nothing to help the DRC," Mushikiwabo said of the British government's decision to freeze aid.

The decision came just as a regional peace process showed signs of breakthrough after the M23 rebels announced they had started to withdraw from the strategic eastern part of Sake and Goma, in return for direct negotiations with Kinshasa.

The arrangement was reached last week at a summit of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) in the Ugandan capital, Kampala.

Minister Mushikiwabo reaffirmed Rwanda's commitment to supporting the ICGLR peace blueprint.

"The bottom line for Rwanda is stability in Eastern DRC and in the region - this is what is important for us. We will continue the work started with member states in our region and hope that the international community will support this process and contribute constructively."

Earlier this week, FDLR crossed from the Congo and attacked two Rwandan villages before the Rwandan Defence Forces repulsed them and drove them back to the Congo, killing six rebels and capturing two in the process. At least one civilian was killed and three reportedly abducted by the attackers, who are believed to have been about 120 and heavily armed.

Rwanda has accused Kinshasa of backing the FDLR militias and integrating some of them in the army.

Some international personalities have criticized decisions by some countries to withdraw or delay aid to Rwanda in the wake of the UN experts allegations.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said in a statement that his African Governance Initiative will continue its work in Rwanda. "The proper thing is to sort out that issue (Congo crisis) through the ICGLR and the international community, and to continue to support the progress of Rwanda in the lives of the people," the statement released by the Blair Office reads in part.

A recent survey commissioned by the British Government showed that Rwanda was one of the most effective users of aid in the world, it stated.

A British researcher and lecturer in comparative and international politics at SOAS, University of London, Dr Phil Clark, raised questions about the methodology used in gathering testimonies that informed conclusion that Rwanda was backing the M23 rebels.

"In the case of the June 2012 (draft) report, apparent methodological and substantive problems suggest that international donors should have treated the GoE's (Group of Experts') analysis with much greater caution," Dr Clark said.

He warns the donor community against taking policy decisions on the basis of the group's allegations, which have strongly been refuted by Kigali and Kampala.

Furthermore, a key dimension of the June 2012 GoE report is the reliance on testimony by unidentified Congolese military commanders and intelligence officials, whose impartiality on the issues at hand must be seriously questioned, he said.

"The report states incorrectly that Rwanda trained some M23 fighters at the Kanombe army barracks in the Rwandan capital, Kigali - a key claim in showing the extent of Rwandan involvement in the M23 rebellion - when those barracks comprise only a military hospital and a cemetery.

It would be impossible for such training to take place in those barracks and even a cursory check of the premises would have convinced the GoE of this," Dr Clark observed.

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