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Over the weekend the U.S. State Department announced it was suspending $200,000 worth of Foreign Military Financing, or FMF, normally allocated to support a military academy in Rwanda. The suspension of aid is the first punitive action taken against Kigali since the allegations of support to the M23 rebellion in Congo surfaced in late June. The U.N. Group of Experts report documented high-level assistance to the rebels in the form of training, financial support, direct military reinforcement, and provision of weaponry.
Today, an influential Obama administration official also warned Rwanda’s leaders that they could be charged with “aiding and abetting” crimes against humanity in neighboring Congo. Stephen Rapp, the U.S. ambassador-at-large for war crimes, said he was “not sure if we are there in terms of criminal conduct," but cautioned President Paul Kagame and his affiliates that their actions could make them liable.
“[I]f this kind of thing continued and groups that were being armed were committing crimes ... then I think you would have a situation where individuals who were aiding them from across the border could be held criminally liable," Rapp told the Guardian.
The Rwanda-stoked rebellion has caused immense human suffering in the East. Humanitarian groups have highlighted the rapidly deteriorating situation for civilians. The fighting between the M23 rebels and the Congolese army has displaced more than 260,000 people in eastern Congo.
The Enough Project urged the U.S. government to cut military funding to Rwanda and is encouraged by the administration’s actions. While the actual amount is nominal, the decision to end aid is highly symbolic. The aid cut indicates that the U.S. government believes that the Kigali regime is acting as a destabilizing force in the region. In a recent trip to the region, U.S. Special Advisor to the Great Lakes Barrie Walkley met with authorities in both Rwanda and Congo and stated that any external support for the M23 rebellion must stop.
Washington has remained a steadfast ally of Rwanda despite the country’s long and troubled history meddling in the eastern region of Congo. The Kagame regime has enjoyed a long, positive relationship with the U.S. over the course of the last three presidential administrations.
Noted Congo analyst Jason Stearns described the significance of the decision, “The U.S. government has been a long-standing ally of the Rwandan government. This step, even if symbolic, is emblematic of a shift in perception—if not necessarily in aid—in Washington.”
The Congolese information minister, Lambert Membe, welcomed the decision. He argued that the U.S. government’s reduction of aid to Rwanda amounted to an acknowledgment of Kigali’s complicity in the M23 rebellion. “This information has been confirmed by many other sources, and not I think that the government of the United States is confirming this information,” Membe said.
In the released statement, a State Department spokesperson said:
In light of information that Rwanda is supporting armed groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the Department of State has decided it can no longer provide Foreign Military Financing (FMF) appropriated in the current fiscal year to Rwanda, considering a restriction imposed by the 2012 appropriation act.
The spokesperson went on to say that the U.S. would continue to provide funding in support of peacekeeping missions. Rwanda is a large contributor to the hybrid A.U.-U.N. force in Darfur, or UNAMID, and the mission is led by a Rwandan lieutenant general.
The statement highlighted that “restraint, dialogue, and respect for each other’s sovereignty” are critical for Rwanda and Congo to begin to stabilize the conflict-ridden region.
Photo: Rwanda President Paul Kagame (AP)