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US loosens ties to Rwanda president due to DR Congo

WASHINGTON -- Washington is loosening its ties to Rwandan President Paul Kagame, long a favorite of the donor community, amid allegations his government is stirring violence in neighboring DR Congo, analysts say.

Last week, in a statement slipped out without fanfare late Sunday, the United States said it was freezing its modest US$200,000 in 2012 military aid to Rwanda — a move experts say represents a major shift in long-held U.S. policy.

“As we have repeatedly said to the government of Rwanda, we have deep concerns about Rwanda's support to the Congolese rebel group that goes by the name M23,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

The M23 are Tutsi ex-rebels from the Rwanda-backed National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP).

They were integrated into the regular army of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2009 as part of a peace deal that followed their failed 2008 offensive on the Congo's eastern city of Goma.

But the ex-rebels mutinied in April, demanding better pay and the full implementation of a March 23, 2009 peace deal, and have been engaged in running battles with the Congolese army in the eastern Nord Kivu region.

Kinshasa accuses Kigali of sponsoring the rebellion — a complaint supported by a U.N. panel, which said in June that Rwanda was supplying the rebels with arms and soldiers.

Nuland said the United States also has its own evidence of Rwandan involvement in the upheavals, but believed the U.N. report was “quite comprehensive and quite concerning.”

U.S. State Department war crimes investigator Stephen Rapp even told the British daily The Guardian this week that Kagame could one day find himself charged with war crimes. The Netherlands also cut its military aid to Rwanda.

“It is really the first time we have heard strong words spoken against Paul Kagame in Rwanda by the U.S. government. There is a real shift,” said Richard Downie, expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“This is a real change in tone. Rwanda will find itself in a unusual and uncomfortable position right now,” he told AFP.

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