NAIROBI Rwanda dismissed on Tuesday U.S. charges that it was supporting M23 rebels in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo and said leveling accusations would not help pacify the region.
Rwanda's denial came as the United Nations announced that its newly deployed Intervention Brigade would begin securing a zone around the strategic eastern Congolese city of Goma, forcibly disarming people found carrying weapons there.
Western donors halted some aid to Rwanda last year after U.N. experts said Kigali was backing rebels in eastern Congo, a region racked by fighting since the 1990s that has in part been fuelled by a struggle to control rich mineral deposits there.
In a report last month, U.N. experts said M23 continued to recruit fighters in Rwanda with the aid of sympathetic Rwandan military officers, prompting Washington to say it was "deeply concerned" and to call for Rwanda to stop its support.
"Those whose policy is to keep pulling countries of the region into a conflict that is not of their making, we don't think that is helpful," Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo said. "Scapegoating is not going to help DRC."
When asked if that amounted to a denial, she told Reuters in Nairobi: "I think my comment is very clear. There are many complex issues in Congo and those have to be looked at with a view to try to reach a peaceful situation in DRC."
Kigali has repeatedly and vociferously denied charges it backed M23.
Mushikiwabo was speaking on the sidelines of a meeting of ministers from the Great Lakes region in the Kenyan capital, which included discussions about eastern Congo and regional efforts to broker peace between the rebel group and Kinshasa.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry last week led a U.N. Security Council debate on the Great Lakes and urged 11 African nations which signed a February deal brokered by the United Nations on ending fighting to respect Congo's sovereignty.
Alongside that peace initiative, Uganda has been hosting talks between Kinshasa and the M23 group.
Kenyan Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed told Reuters a draft deal had been given to Kinshasa and the rebels, and that representatives from both sides were expected to meet soon in the Ugandan capital to discuss it. She did not give a date.
But another delegate at the Nairobi meeting said the two sides remained far apart and little progress was being made in the Kampala talks.
Congo's U.N. peacekeeping mission announced on Tuesday it was setting up a security zone around Goma and the nearby town of Sake, which briefly fell into M23 hands last year, to prevent the population being caught up in renewed fighting.
The mission, known as MONUSCO, said its troops would disarm, by force if necessary, anyone other than members of the Congolese security forces found carrying weapons within the zone after a 48-hour grace period.
An accompanying map of the proposed zone indicated it would not cover any areas currently held by M23.
"There are many armed groups in this area. Now the brigade is out to enforce peace by means of the security zone, this is the first stage," Charles Bambara, MONUSCO's spokesman, said.
The operation will be the first for the nearly 3,000-strong Intervention Brigade, which has been charged with aggressively neutralizing armed groups in Congo's lawless eastern borderlands.
The U.N. Security Council authorized the brigade, made up of Malawian, Tanzanian and South African troops, following its failure to prevent M23 fighters routing government troops and seizing Goma and Sake last November.
(Additional reporting by Jonny Hogg in Kinshasa; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Alistair Lyon)