News and Views
Rwanda and Uganda supplying Congo rebels with weapons, says UN
By David Blair
Two of the biggest recipients of British aid in Africa have broken a United Nations arms embargo by supplying rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo with weapons and ammunition, a Security Council investigation found last night.
The “M23” movement, led by an indicted war criminal, has started a new round of bloodshed in eastern Congo, forcing about 470,000 people to flee their homes since March.
Andrew Mitchell, the former International Development Secretary, delayed a payment of £16 million of British money to Rwanda when these allegations first surfaced in July. On his last day in office before moving to become Chief Whip last month, Mr Mitchell released this sum into Rwandan government coffers, with half the money tied to health and education.
At the time, the Congolese government accused Mr Mitchell of sending a “disastrous signal” to Rwanda, while Human Rights Watch also voiced its concern. The fact that the UN’s experts have issued a final report confirming their earlier charges against Rwanda will reopen the debate about the wisdom of Mr Mitchell’s decision. He remains under political pressure because of the row over his behaviour towards a Downing Street police officer.
“The Government of Rwanda continues to violate the arms embargo through direct military support to M23 rebels,” reads the 44-page report, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters news agency. This help comes in the form of “recruitment” along with the “provision of arms and ammunition, intelligence, and political advice”.
The report alleges that General James Kabarebe, the Rwandan defence minister, exerts direct control over M23 rebels inside Congo and sits at the apex of the rebel movement’s chain of command.
The UN also accuses Uganda of helping the guerrillas, saying that officials in its government have “provided support to M23 in the form of direct troop reinforcements” along with “weapons deliveries, technical assistance, joint planning, political advice and facilitation of external relations”.
When M23 captured several towns in eastern Congo earlier this year, the armies of Uganda and Rwanda “jointly supported” this operation, said the report.
So far, Britain has not reduced its aid to Uganda because of these allegations. A Ugandan military spokesman described the claims as “absolute rubbish, hogwash”. President Paul Kagame of Rwanda has officially denied the accusations, previously saying that “not one bullet” had passed from his country to Congo’s rebels.
Mr Kagame is a long-standing British ally who addressed the Conservative party conference in 2007. Britain is Rwanda’s biggest bilateral aid donor – and Mr Kagame was close to Mr Mitchell and the previous Labour Government.
President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda is also viewed as a friend of Britain. Of the £101.5 million of British aid that his country is set to receive this year, £22.5 million will go straight into Ugandan government coffers, reserved for health, education and administration.
No big aid donor has taken any action against Uganda yet. But all the rich countries which help Rwanda opted to reduce their aid after the UN’s interim report accused Mr Kagame of helping Congo’s rebels in July. Because of Mr Mitchell’s decision,
Britain is the only donor country to have restored its funding.