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Uganda, Rwanda Deny Supporting Insurgents in DRC

Uganda and Rwanda have denied supplying arms and other assistance to insurgents in the Democratic Republic of Congo in violation of an arms embargo, as the United Nations had reported recently.

Ugandan army spokesman Major Shaban Bantariza criticized the U.N. Security Council panel of experts that released a report a couple of weeks ago alleging that Uganda and Rwanda are sending arms to groups in the DRC.

Major Bantariza said he thinks the panel's report is trying to cover up failures and deficiencies of the U.N. mission in the DRC, called MONUC.

"They have not arrest[ed] any one of us," he said. "They have not even said, Major Bantariza was found carrying rifles the other day, at such a place. Now they are simply saying we are supplying rifles. Now, we are the ones suffering from the influx of refugees from eastern Congo because of the fighting between the militias there who in the first place should have been disarmed by MONUC."

In its January report, the U.N. expert panel reported that it had, in its words, gathered information indicating that Rwanda and Uganda had provided state-authorized arms transfers to the Democratic Republic of Congo, and that their troops had been directly involved in supporting dissident forces.

The transfers, said the report, are in direct violation of an arms embargo levied against the DRC.

But Rwanda's permanent secretary in the Ministry of the Interior, Joseph Mutaboba, says Rwandan troops are not in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

"The last [Rwandan] soldier left Congo on the 5th of October 2002 at one p.m," he said. "Since then, we deal with the Congolese government officials - nobody else. So we have bilateral dealings. We have never heard of any third party meeting with us."

This week, officials from the three countries are meeting in the United States in a bid to ease regional tensions.

The three countries have had volatile relationships for at least a decade. After Rwanda's 1994 genocide in which Hutu extremists killed up to 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus, Hutu militiamen and soldiers fled to neighboring DRC to hide.

Rwanda had sent its troops into DRC twice - in 1996 and 1998 - to hunt down Hutu extremists involved in the genocide. Rwanda has accused DRC of supporting the Hutu rebels, which DRC has denied.

Meanwhile, Rwanda and Uganda had sent troops into eastern DRC to support certain rebel groups waging war between 1998 and 2003, arguing that the conflict there threatened the security of Rwanda and Uganda. The two have also accused each other of backing opposition groups in their countries.