LONDON — Britain said Friday it will withhold around $30 million of aid to Rwanda because of concerns that the country is supporting rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Justine Greening, Britain's international development secretary, said the aid had been put on hold because of concerns over "credible and compelling" reports that Rwanda has supported rebel fighters active in the country.
A United Nations expert panel has said both Rwanda and Uganda are providing the M23 rebel group with material support, allegations which both countries deny. The group was formed earlier this year and has recently ramped up its attacks within eastern DRC, taking control of the regional capital, Goma.
Carina Tertsakian, the senior researcher on Rwanda at Human Rights Watch, says the decision by Britain is a welcome move.
"The secretary for state for international development [in Britain] is sending out a really clear message to the Rwandan government that it should stop supporting the M23 rebels who have been carrying out these atrocities in Congo," Tertsakian says.
Around 40 percent of Rwanda's budget comes from international aid.
Britain withheld its aid to Rwanda in July because of its alleged activity in the DRC, but in September the funds were reinstated. The European Union, United States, Germany, the Netherlands, and Sweden have also suspended aid.
Suspending aid to Rwanda is not the way to resolve the crisis in the region, says James Putzel from the London School of Economics.
"This is a big blow to remove aid and could jeopardize what has been one of the most effective development experiences in sub-Saharan Africa in the last decade," he says.
Along with suspending aid to Rwanda, the British government said Friday it would be giving around $30 million extra to the DRC for immediate humanitarian needs.
Putzel says Britain is misdirecting its attention, and should be concerned about the aid money it sends to the Congolese government.
"What is really worrying is that this attention is directed entirely towards Rwanda rather than the source of the problem. The Congolese' own armed forces, the FARDC, are among the worst violators of human rights in the region," says Putzel.
More than a week after taking Goma, the rebels were set to withdraw on Friday, but there were no immediate signs of a large-scale pullout.
The Congolese government has accused the rebels of killing dozens of people in Goma and wounding hundreds more, which the M23 group denies.