By Louis Charbonneau
(Reuters) – An expert panel has urged a U.N. Security Council committee to impose sanctions on Rwanda’s defence minister and other Rwandan officials the panel linked to a bloody insurgency in the Democratic Republic of Congo, U.N. Diplomats said on Friday.
They said the U.N. Group of Experts on the Congo had recommended imposing sanctions on Defense Minister James Kabarebe and others during a closed meeting of the Council’s Congo sanctions committee on Monday.
Other diplomats said it was unlikely the committee would impose the sanctions, but that proposing them would send a strong message to Rwanda, as well as neighbouring Uganda, that support for the M23 rebels was unacceptable.
A confidential report by the experts group earlier said Kabarebe was commanding an insurgency in eastern Congo that is being armed by Rwanda and Uganda, both of which have also sent troops to support deadly attacks.
Rwanda and Uganda vehemently deny the allegations, though some Security Council diplomats say the Rwandan denials are not credible.
At Monday’s committee meeting, the experts “recommended designating the Rwandan defence minister and several other Rwandan officials,” a diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity. “The committee took no action on that recommendation but did decide to designate M23 leader (Sultani) Makenga.”
Other council diplomats confirmed the envoy’s remarks. Diplomats said it was unlikely the council would find the consensus necessary to add any Rwandans to the U.N. blacklist.
“But the fact that the Group of Experts would make this recommendation will itself send a strong political message to Rwanda about the need to curtail support for M23 rebels,” another diplomatic source said.
An official at the Rwandan U.N. mission reached by telephone had no immediate comment.
The accusations against Kabarebe have prompted the United States, Sweden and the Netherlands to suspend some aid to Rwanda, which relies on donors for about 40 percent of its budget. In September the European Union froze further budgetary support to Rwanda.
Eastern Congo has been swept by violence since the beginning of the year after hundreds of soldiers defected and launched M23, which says it wants to overthrow President Joseph Kabila.
More than 760,000 people have fled their homes since.
One diplomat said the sanctions committee would likely add a few more names from M23 to the U.N. blacklist, which would subject them an international travel ban and assets freeze.
Rwanda will join the 15-member U.N. Security Council for a two-year term beginning in January. Council diplomats say that it will probably be difficult to achieve consensus on Congo in 2013 and 2014 because of Rwanda’s presence.
Bosco Ntaganda, a former Congolese general wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes, controls the rebellion on the ground in eastern Congo, while M23 leader Makenga is in charge of operations and coordination with allied armed groups, the experts’ report said.
Both Ntaganda and Makenga receive direct military orders from Rwandan army Chief of Defense staff General Charles Kayonga, who act on instructions from Kabarebe, it said.
Uganda threatened to withdraw troops from peacekeeping missions in Somalia and elsewhere over the experts’ report but has made no moves to do so.
The Congolese government said on Wednesday a leading army mutineer allied to the M23 rebellion in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo had surrendered, claiming this as a major blow to the insurgents.
(Reporting By Louis Charbonneau; editing by David Storey)