US may consider easing sanctions on Rwanda: envoy

Reuters
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Rwanda's President Paul Kagame addresses the 68th United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters …

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States would consider resuming military aid to Rwanda if it found Rwandan support for the M23 Congolese rebel group believed to use child soldiers had ended, a senior U.S. official said on Wednesday.

On October 3, Washington said it would block U.S. military aid to Rwanda because of its "support for the M23, a rebel group which continues to actively recruit and abduct children" and which has posed a threat to the stability of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

M23 is a Tutsi-dominated rebellion of former Congolese soldiers that began taking parts of eastern Congo last year, accusing the government of failing to honor a 2009 peace deal.

The group on Tuesday called an end to its 20-month revolt after the army captured its last hilltop strongholds, raising hopes for peace in a region where millions have died in nearly two decades of violence.

Under U.S. sanctions, Rwanda does not get U.S. International Military Education and Training funds, which help train foreign militaries, or U.S. Foreign Military Financing, which funds the sale of U.S. military materiel and services.

Russ Feingold, U.S. special envoy for the Great Lakes region of Africa, told reporters that the United States would conduct an investigation and could lift the sanctions if it found that any Rwandan support for M23's use of child soldiers had ceased.

"If it turns out that Rwanda is no longer involved in such activities, if it turns out that their role here has been a positive one - and there is much that they have done during this (peace) process to be positive ... then we would certainly review whether it's appropriate to continue these sanctions," Feingold said.

"They are based specifically on certain actions that we believe occurred and if those actions cease, there would certainly be a serious review of whether it is appropriate to continue it (the sanctions)," he told a conference call.

Millions of people have died from violence, disease and hunger since the 1990s as foreign-backed insurgents have waged a series of rebellions, often for control of eastern Congo's rich deposits of gold, diamonds and tin.

M23's defeat appeared to vindicate the United Nations' deployment of a tough new Intervention Brigade this year. But, with dozens of rebel groups still active, pacifying the mineral-rich region at Africa's heart remains a daunting task.

The M23 is just the latest manifestation of simmering anger toward Kinshasa among ethnic Tutsis in eastern Congo. The real test will be whether government and rebels can reach a lasting political deal.

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