Congo demands sanctions on Rwanda, Uganda over rebels

KINSHASA Wed Oct 17, 2012 3:36pm EDT

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KINSHASA (Reuters) - Democratic Republic of Congo on Wednesday demanded targeted sanctions against Rwandan and Ugandan officials accused by a U.N. experts panel of backing a six-month-old insurgency in its volatile eastern borderlands.

The U.N. Security Council's Group of Experts said in a confidential report seen by Reuters that both Rwanda and Uganda were supporting the M23 rebels, who are expanding their control of parts of Congo's mineral-rich North Kivu province, forcing hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes.

Rwanda accused the head of the Group of Experts for "pursuing a political agenda". Uganda called the allegations "rubbish, rubbish, rubbish".

However, the report is likely to hurt regional efforts to end to the crisis through the International Conference for the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), currently chaired by Uganda.

The experts, who monitor compliance with U.N. sanctions and an arms embargo on Congo, singled out Rwandan Defence Minister General James Kabarebe as heading M23's de facto chain of command.

They also said that senior Ugandan officials had provided M23 with "troop reinforcements ... weapons deliveries, technical assistance, joint planning, political advice and facilitation of external relations."

Congo's government spokesman Lambert Mende said on Wednesday that those named in the report as backing the rebellion should be placed under U.N. sanctions.

"It's more important than ever, as now we have proof that the drama in North Kivu is being manipulated by criminals who hold positions of power," he told Reuters.

"We've taken note of this report which confirms what we already know about Rwanda and contains new information about Uganda ... We're in contact with our neighbors in Uganda over these very serious allegations," he said.

While Kinshasa has regularly accused Kigali of meddling in Congo since an interim report in June revealed Rwandan links to the rebels, Uganda has up to now played a key role in the search for a regional solution.

"The leaking of the report by the Panel of "Experts" can only be in bad faith and intended to cause mischief and undermine the regional efforts to find a durable solution to the conflict in Eastern DRC," said Okello Oryem, Uganda's deputy minister for foreign affairs.

Oryem complained that Kampala had not been given an opportunity to respond to the charges.

"EXTREMELY DAMAGING"

But Thierry Vircoulon, the central Africa project co-ordinator for International Crisis Group, said the allegations were "extremely damaging".

"We can expect the Congolese to become more suspicious of the current ICGLR mediation," he said. "It'll be difficult for (Congolese) President Joseph Kabila to stay on board.".

"(But) by shedding light on the relationship between M23 and Kigali this may force Kigali to reduce its support," he added.

But Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo rejected the findings.

"Rwanda will not allow itself to be dragged any deeper into this farce by responding to the Group's far-fetched but fact-free assertions," Mushikiwabo said in a statement.

A Congolese army spokesman said that M23 fighters allied with other armed groups attacked Congolese army positions near Kilolirwe, in Masisi territory, but were repelled.

Meanwhile the U.N.'s peacekeeping mission in the country said six of its Indian troops and a local translator were wounded late on Tuesday after being ambushed by unidentified armed men.

As regional efforts to resolve the latest bout of fighting stall, French president Francois Hollande has said he favored bolstering the 17,000 strong U.N. mission to patrol the border with Rwanda, which has fought two previous wars in Congo.

Rwanda has said interventions were needed to pursue Hutu fighters responsible for a 1994 genocide. But it is also accused of defending its a web of economic and ethnic interests [ID:nL5E8LHN12].

Uganda also sent troops across the border during a 1998-2003 war in the region that left millions dead.

(Additional reporting by Elias Biryabarema in Kampala and Jenny Clover in Kigali; Writing by David Lewis and Joe Bavier; Editing by Jon Hemming)

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