Last updated: November 30, 2012 5:49 pm

UK withholds Rwanda aid after UN concerns

,23 Rebel Soldier©AFP

The UK is withholding £21m of aid to Rwanda after the UN raised concerns that President Paul Kagame’s government is continuing to support the M23 rebel group fighting in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo.

Britain, which after the US is the second-largest bilateral donor to Rwanda, has in the past been a staunch supporter of Mr Kagame and has shrugged off concerns about his government’s role in Congo’s persistent conflicts.

But the British government has come under fierce criticism from human rights groups since reinstating part of its programme in September, despite reports by UN experts implicating Rwanda in the Congo crisis.

The aid freeze means that overall close to $200m in direct budgetary support from the UK and other donors has now been delayed as a result of the UN accusations, putting at risk Rwanda’s dramatic economic recovery since the genocide in 1994.

Justine Greening, the international development secretary, said the UK money – due to be handed over next month – would not be disbursed because the regime had breached agreements.

“The government has already set out its concerns over credible and compelling reports of Rwandan involvement with M23 in the Democratic Republic of Congo,” she said. “This evidence constitutes a breach of the partnership principles set out in the memorandum of understanding and, as a result, I have decided not to release the next payment of budget support to Rwanda.”

The Board of the African Development Bank has twice declined to sanction a budget support payment of $38m to Kigali. The World Bank has also delayed sending for board approval a request for $125m in funding.

“There is a rolling decision not to take it to the [World Bank] board,” a senior donor official said, adding that the institution faced a “dilemma” It does not want World Bank money to finance the rebellion but neither does it want to jeopardise development progress in a country that is still recovering from genocide.

Aid has helped to lift up to 1m Rwandans from poverty in the past five years.

Mr Kagame’s government has been forced to borrow money at commercial rates to help plug the gap, while the IMF forecast that the shortfalls would shave 1.5 per cent off gross domestic product growth this year.

Rwanda continues to deny involvement with the M23, and the government reacted furiously to Britain’s decision, saying on Friday that it “undermines the pursuit of peace in the region”.

“Blaming Rwanda might suit short-term political ends but ultimately it hinders understanding of the conflict and puts an effective and lasting solution further out of reach,” said Louise Mushikiwabo, the foreign minister. “This action harms Rwanda and does nothing to help the DRC.”

Earlier this week, regional mediators secured a commitment from the M23 rebels to withdraw from the provincial minerals trading capital Goma, which they over-ran last week. They were due to begin the withdrawal on Friday but UN officials said the rebels were now delaying by 48 hours.

A report by UN experts released this week said rebel commanders were reporting directly to General James Kabarebe, Rwanda’s minister of defence. It accused Rwanda of providing arms and recruits to the rebels, who broke away from the army earlier this year.

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