The United States is delaying but will not block release of a United Nations expert report on Congo, diplomats said of a dispute over a document likely to implicate Rwanda in its neighbour’s conflict and test ties between the former arch-foes.
The Democratic Republic of Congo has accused the United States of blocking the so-called Group of Experts report to protect its ally but diplomats at the U.N. said they expected the report to be published in full once Rwanda had been given a chance to respond to the accusations.
The diplomatic wrangling over the report comes after Congo’s government and Human Rights Watch said that a new rebellion in the country’s east was getting support from officials in Rwanda, including weapons in breach of an arms embargo for Congo and fighters, but stopped short of directly accusing the government, Reuters reports.
Diplomats briefed on the contents of the report said an annex would back up many of these claims. Kigali denies the charges and has said the new fighting was Kinshasa’s responsibility to tackle and a problem within its own borders.
While the U.N. fracas appears largely procedural – centering on whether or not information about support from Rwanda for Congo’s eastern rebels should be included even though it was presented to council members after the report was written – it has highlighted the rapid fallout between the DRC and Rwanda.
A senior Western diplomat at the U.N. said Washington was being cautious and had put the brakes on the report, a comment other envoys confirmed. “They have made the legitimate point that the Rwandans should have a chance to comment,” he said.
Another diplomat told Reuters that the United States would allow the publication of the report, with its annex, which will detail a verbal briefing on support given by officials in Rwanda to the M23 rebel movement, in two weeks.
“The U.S. and other Security Council members should be doing everything they can to expose violations of U.N. sanctions and the arms embargo, including by Rwanda, and not attempt to cover them up,” HRW said in a statement emailed to the press.
A spokesman for the U.S. mission to the U.N. denied they were blocking publication of the report to the Security Council’s Congo sanctions committee and said they were studying new information presented by the Group of Experts in preparation for further discussion on June 26.
“We and the other members of the (sanctions) committee are studying the findings carefully and will continue to discuss their implications once the report is public,” spokesman Payton Knopf said.
Rwanda’s army repeatedly fought in Congo during the former Belgian colony’s wars and a 2009 U.N. experts report detailed Rwandan support for the CNDP, a former eastern Congo rebellion that many of the M23 leaders were also part of.
Kigali arrested the CNDP leader, paving the way for several years of improved relations between the two nations.
“The rapprochement of 2009 (between Congo and Rwanda) is holding, but the fear is that it could break down,” said the senior diplomat, who asked not to be named.
Congolese authorities have already accused elements within the Rwandan military of sending hundreds of troops across the border to fight for the rebels.
“All these efforts to block the report are first of all shameful, and also in terms of peace for eastern Congo, they don’t help,” Atoki Ileka, Congo’s ambassador to France, who is currently representing Kinshasa in New York.
“The people of eastern Congo can’t wait until the U.S. and the rest of the Security Council find a ‘convenient’ solution for the sake of Rwanda,” he added.
Ileka told Reuters the information documented alleged criminal networks within Rwandan military and political circles that are backing the rebels and seem to go “right to the top”.
On Tuesday Rwandan President Paul Kagame accused the international community of blaming Rwanda for Congo’s woes and told Congo to take responsibility for its own problems.
Kinshasa described the comments as “astonishing.”
The fortunes of the two countries have been inextricably linked after more than a million Rwandans fled across the border in the wake of a 1994 genocide, sparking nearly two decades of conflict in Congo which have left millions dead.
Rwanda has repeatedly sent its forces into eastern Congo, citing a need to pursue Rwandan rebels based there, but has faced accusations of pillaging the region’s natural resources.