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Congo Rebellion Threatens Ties with Rwanda

Rwanda's President Paul Kagame, October 26, 2011.Rwanda's President Paul Kagame, October 26, 2011.
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Rwanda's President Paul Kagame, October 26, 2011.
Rwanda's President Paul Kagame, October 26, 2011.
Gabe Joselow
NAIROBI - Accusations that Rwanda is supporting a rebellion in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo are raising tensions between the two nations. Rwanda denies any involvement in Congolese affairs.

Rwanda President Paul Kagame, speaking at a news conference in Kigali Tuesday, told reporters Rwanda has nothing to do with the rebellion that began in North Kivu province in April. "I have simply, and this [means] Rwanda, has simply no responsibility for it. Somebody else has responsibility for it,” he said.

Kagame's remarks followed a slew of allegations that Rwanda is funding, arming and feeding a group of rebel soldiers who defected from the Congolese army in April.

On Monday, Congolese government spokesman Lambert Mende told the Reuters news agency that Rwanda is trying to block a United Nations Group of Experts report verifying the claims.

A report from Human Rights Watch released last month also documented evidence of Rwandan support.

Thierry Vircoulon, Central Africa Director for International Crisis Group, said the war of words is threatening to undermine progress the two countries have made repairing their historically rocky relationship.

“There was definitely a normalization process that was going on between the two countries that's been going on since, I would say, 2009 and the last Goma crisis,"Vircoulon said. "But this normalization process if of course now jeopardized and the relations are getting tense.”

In 2009, Kigali and Kinshasa restored diplomatic ties that had been severed since 1996, when Rwandan forces entered Congo in pursuit of Hutu extremists who had taken part in the Rwandan genocide.

The current rebellion in North Kivu has been perpetrated by soldiers aligned with a former rebel group known as the CNDP.

The soldiers were integrated into the Congolese national army as part of a 2009 peace deal, but defected as pressure mounted on the government to arrest former rebel-turned-general Bosco Ntaganda on an International Criminal Court warrant.

Vircoulon said he cannot confirm the mutineers are receiving support from Rwanda, but said their ability to sustain their rebellion this long is suspicious.

"Apparently the mutineers, who are only 200 or 300 people, are able to push back several thousand Congolese soldiers," said Vircoulon. "So from a purely military point of view, I wonder how they can do that without support coming from somewhere.”

The U.N. Security Council last week said it would support an investigation into reports that the group is receiving outside assistance.

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