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Blinken in Rwanda to discuss Congo tensions, human rights

KIGALI, Rwanda –

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in Rwanda, the final stop on a three-nation Africa tour, where he outlined Washington’s new strategy for working with sub-Saharan African nations as ” equal partners”.

Blinken’s arrival in Rwanda comes at a particularly difficult time for Africa’s Great Lakes region, the small Central African country at odds with neighboring Congo at large over allegations that both governments support rebels. armies against each other.

During a meeting on Thursday with Rwandan President Paul Kagame, Blinken is expected to discuss efforts to defuse tensions. Rwanda rejects a new report by UN experts saying it has “solid evidence” that members of the Rwandan armed forces are conducting operations in eastern Congo in support of the rebel group. Army M23.

Blinken has said that reports of Rwanda’s support for the M23 appear to be “credible.” After meeting with authorities in Congo on Tuesday, he said the US would support African-led efforts to end the fighting.

Rwandan authorities in turn accused Congo of providing refuge to ethnic Hutu fighters, who played a role in the 1994 Rwandan genocide that killed ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus. There have long been tensions between the countries. In the late 1990s, Rwanda twice sent forces deep into the Congo, teaming up with rebel leader Laurent Kabila to bring down the country’s longtime dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.

Both Rwanda and Congo deny support for insurgent groups, and the Rwandan government has dismissed the latest report by UN experts as a move to “distract from real issues”. . Rwanda also asserts that its security needs cannot be met while armed defectors from the genocide continue to operate from within Congolese.

A meeting between Kagame and Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi in Angola on July 6 produced a statement calling for a return to normal diplomatic relations, an end to hostilities and an “immediate and unconditional withdrawal”. M23 from its positions in eastern Congo.

But the M23, which consists mainly of ethnic Tutsis from the Congo, continues to hold its positions near the border with Uganda, keeping Rwanda in the spotlight.

The chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee in a letter to Blinken last month called for a comprehensive review of US policy towards Rwanda and noted that he was concerned that Washington’s support for Rwanda, described by human rights groups as authoritarian and repressive, is not in line with US values.

The State Department said Blinken in Rwanda would also raise concerns about democracy and human rights, including transnational repression and limited space for the opposition.

Paul Rusesabagina, a permanent resident of the United States who is being jailed in Rwanda after being convicted last year of terrorism-related charges, is also on the agenda. Rusesabagina, who is best known for her film “Hotel Rwanda” for sheltering the ethnic Tutsis during the genocide, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom of the United States.

In a statement ahead of Blinken’s visit, the Rwandan government said it “looks forward to a vigorous exchange of views on governance and human rights, as usual in the Rwanda-U.S. bilateral relationship.” It acknowledged the negotiations would cover the situation of Rusesabagina.

Blinken on this trip also visited South Africa, where he described a strategy “rooted in the recognition that sub-Saharan Africa is a major geopolitical force”.

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