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September 28, 2012

Rwanda Denies Presidential Walkout on Congo Meeting

by Nick Long

The president of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, walked out of a meeting at the United Nations on Thursday after Belgium’s foreign affairs minister referred to allegations that Rwanda has been backing rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).  A mini-summit meeting called by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon failed to reach a consensus on Rwanda’s alleged role in a Congo rebellion.
 
The closed meeting on Central Africa was held on the fringes of the U.N. General Assembly and attended by 30 other heads of state and government besides Kagame, including Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila.
 
It's believed the U.N. secretary-general was hoping for a unanimous condemnation of external support for the M23 rebels in eastern Congo who defected from the Congolese army in April.
 
But Central Africa analyst Thierry Vircoulon of the International Crisis Group says the meeting failed to reach a consensus view on Rwanda’s alleged support for the rebels.

"Kabila and Kagame made cautious speeches and the meeting organized by Ban Ki-moon apparently did not lead to anything," he said. "And there was some kind of diplomatic incident -- when the Belgian foreign affairs minister mentioned Rwandan support for the rebellion, Kagame left the room."  
 
In fact, it is not clear whether the Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders mentioned Rwanda by name in this context at this meeting, but Belgium and a number of other countries have already expressed their disapproval for Kigali’s alleged role in the Congo rebellion.
 
Rwanda has repeatedly denied supporting M23.  And the Rwandan delegation in New York denied that President Kagame's walkout was a diplomatic incident, saying he just had another meeting to go to.
 
Vircoulon says attention will now turn to possible U.N. sanctions against Rwanda. 

"They’re waiting for the decision of the U.N. about the sanctions committee.  There were discussions in August and now they have to decide if they want to put the names of the officials in the experts' report on the sanctions list," he said.
 
A U.N. experts report has named Rwandan officials, including two generals, as being in close contact with the M23 during the opening stages of the rebellion.
 
The U.N. has publicly backed a plan for a neutral international force to be stationed along the DRC-Rwanda border to prevent any transit of men or munitions to help the rebels.
 
But Vircoulon argues that so far, the proposed force looks unlikely to achieve much.
 
"The force can’t be effective at all, because basically we’re talking about 4,000 men which is not much.  Secondly so far we’re talking about Tanzanians -- I haven’t heard of any other country committing troops.  And to monitor the border you need a lot of people on the ground and high tech equipment," said Vircoulon.
 
Vircoulon added that any new force for the Congo would have to compete for donor funding with a planned peackeeping force for Mali. And he pointed out that DRC already has 17,000 U.N. peacekeepers.