Antony Blinken visits Rwanda in testing moment for old US ally Paul Kagame

Antony Blinken visits Rwanda in testing moment for old US ally Paul Kagame

KIGALI (Reuter): US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is on a visit to Kigali less than a week after it emerged United Nations experts had found “solid evidence” Rwanda has been interfering militarily in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

Regional analysts expect Blinken, who arrived on Wednesday evening, to privately exert pressure to stop Rwanda’s alleged support for the M23 rebel group without immediately implementing sanctions or blocking military aid, as the United States did in similar circumstances in 2013.

A confidential report sent to the United Nations Security Council last week said Rwandan troops have been fighting alongside the M23 rebels in Congo, and that Kigali has been providing the group with weapons and support since November.

Rwanda’s government has said the UN findings, based on evidence including witness testimony and drone images, were false, and that the M23 was Congo’s responsibility.

The United States is a longstanding ally of Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame, but Blinken told reporters on Tuesday in Kinshasa he was very concerned about “credible reports” Rwanda has provided support to M23.

Last year the US administration gave Rwanda $147 million in bilateral assistance, and $500,000 for peace and security.

“Rwanda’s most important export is its reputation; that’s what attracts Starbucks, that’s what attracts Bill Gates and that reputation is being battered at the moment,” said Jason Stearns, director of New York University’s Congo Research Group.

Blinken’s visit “will lead to a re-evaluation of what’s happening on the ground,” Stearns told Reuters by telephone.

A statement from Rwanda’s foreign affairs ministry on Blinken’s visit said the country was committed to addressing security challenges in the Great Lakes Region.

Rwanda has earned recognition for its stability, ease of doing business and developmental gains since the 1994 genocide, but Kagame has also drawn criticism for cracking down on opponents at home and abroad.

The US top diplomat has said he would raise the fate of Paul Rusesabagina, a US resident who was sentenced by Kigali court to 25 years in prison on terrorism charges.

Rusesabagina refused to take part in what he called a “sham” trial, saying he had been kidnapped and brought to Kigali against his will.

Rwanda’s foreign affairs ministry said Rusesabagina’s arrest and conviction were lawful under Rwandan and international law.

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