NEW YORK — The United States says Rwanda should denounce a rebel group in the Democratic Republic of Congo that is accused of using rape and murder in a campaign of terror. The United Nations says Rwandan defense officials are backing the militia. Rwanda denies the allegation.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says he is concerned about external support for the militia known as M23, which is consolidating its control over areas of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s North Kivu province.
A June U.N. report accused Rwandan defense officials of backing M23, prompting the United States and some European countries to suspend military assistance to Kigali.
Rwanda continues to deny those allegations, saying that solving the crisis in eastern Congo will be impossible if, in its words, “the international community continues to define the issue erroneously.”
Johnnie Carson, U.S. assistant secretary of State for the Bureau of African Affairs, says it is time for Rwanda to distance itself from the group. “We would clearly like to see, at a very minimum, the government in Kigali denounce the activities of the M23. They are, after all, a rebel group undermining the stability of a neighboring state,” he said.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame says it is “perplexing” the degree to which the international community is focusing on M23 at the expense of what a written statement from the Rwandan government calls “much broader challenges,” warning that “externalizing” the crisis “effectively absolves blame from those with primary responsibility.”
President Kagame and Congolese President Laurent Kabila met together with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly last week. Clinton emphasized the need for an “honest and sustained dialogue” that respects territorial integrity.
Assistant Secretary Carson says that Rwanda and Congo must work together. “It is important, absolutely important, for both of those countries and both of those leaders to reestablish confidence and trust which is not there today,” he said.
President Kagame says the many armed groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo “are the outcome of a complex, long-standing historical reality. Therefore, singling out one group out of many is running away from the actual issue” that Rwanda says includes the persecution of ethnic Tutsi.
The State Departments Johnnie Carson says the problems of eastern Congo do not justify backing the M23 rebels. “Yes, President Kabila has to take responsibility for his country. But yes, the leadership in Rwanda must understand that it is important to be a good neighbor as well,” he said.
Human Rights Watch says the United Nations is failing to properly acknowledge Rwanda’s continued military support for M23. As long as that support continues, the human rights group says, Congolese civilians will bear the brunt of the fighting.