- Britain is expected to suspend support to Rwanda by the end of the year
- Several countries have already frozen funds amid fears the country’s military is supporting rebels in Congo
- Foreign aid makes up 40 per cent of Rwanda’s budget
Britain is poised to freeze aid to Rwanda amid fears that the country’s military is supporting rebels in Congo. International Development Secretary Justine Greening is expected to suspend support by the end of the year after the EU announced plans to freeze its £140million aid programme to the East African nation. She is understood to be furious with her predecessor Andrew Mitchell for reinstating £8million of the payments on his last day in office against officials’ advice.
The US, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden have also suspended financial support over allegations the Rwandan military is backing a murderous rebellion in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo. In the past six months, the M23 militia group has driven 470,000 people from their homes and has been accused of killing and raping civilians. Its leader Bosco Ntaganda is wanted by the international criminal court for war crimes. Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame – who has been wooed by prime ministers including Tony Blair and David Cameron – has denied his country’s military is backing the rebels.
Britain – the largest bilateral donor to Rwanda – had put £16million of aid on hold after the allegations surfaced in June. Mr Mitchell personally intervened to unblock half of Britain’s donation just six weeks later – reportedly against the advice of experts. The decision was made despite evidence from UN experts that Rwandan troops and weaponry were slipping across the country’s border to support the M23.
Carina Tertsakian, of Rwanda for Human Rights Watch, said Mr Mitchell’s decision was ‘counter productive’. ‘It gave the signal everything was fine. It was premature,’ she added. Sources at the Department for International
Development have indicated Mr Mitchell’s decision is likely to be reversed when the budget is reviewed in December. One said: ‘Justine Greening will be looking very closely at the issue of budget support to Rwanda.’
Foreign Office minister Mark Simmonds told the UN yesterday: ‘There can be no possible justification for such support, whether in terms of military hardware, or strategic advice. It must stop. ‘And there can be no impunity for those who violate human rights.’
Conservative support for Rwanda was seen as the key to detoxifying the party’s image in the run-up to the last election. Mr Mitchell was responsible for founding Project Umubano, which sent many MPs and Cabinet ministers to Rwanda and Sierra Leone to help with building projects.
Mr Kagame has been repeatedly wooed by Labour and Conservative politicians and even addressed the Tory party conference in 2007. Rwanda relies on foreign aid for roughly 40 per cent of its budget.
Jean Michel Dumond, the EU’s ambassador to Congo, said on Wednesday: ‘It was agreed to freeze budgetary assistance and to not agree to any supplementary budgetary credit for Rwanda without them giving signs of co-operating.’
Yesterday at the UN, Mr Kagame rejected allegations that Rwanda was supporting the rebels and hit out at the West for cutting aid. ‘Solving the crisis will be impossible if the international community continues to define the issue erroneously,’ he said.