Rwanda threatens to withdraw peacekeepers

Rwanda threatened to withdraw its troops from United Nations peacekeeping operations if the world body publishes a report accusing the Rwandan army of committing possible genocide in Congo in the 1990s, Rwanda's foreign minister said in a letter sent to the UN.

Addressed to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the letter from Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo describes the report from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights as "fatally flawed" and "incredibly irresponsible".

The letter is dated August 3 and was obtained by The Associated Press.

A draft of the report leaked this week accuses Rwandan troops and rebel allies tied to the current Congolese president of slaughtering tens of thousands of Hutus in Congo.

The attacks allegedly came two years after those same troops stopped Rwanda's 1994 genocide that killed more than half a million Tutsis and some moderate Hutus.

"The report's allegations - of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity - are extremely serious. However, the methodology, sourcing and standard of proof used to arrive at them most certainly are not," Ms Mushikiwabo's letter says.

The letter asks why the investigators spent six weeks in Congo but never came to Rwanda or asked for meetings with Rwandan officials, who were given the 545-page draft two months ago.

Investigators said they required two independent sources for each of the 600 incidents documented.

The draft says the systematic and widespread attacks "could be classified as crimes of genocide" by a competent court.

In the letter, Ms Mushikiwabo criticises investigators for not seeking evidence that would stand up in court.

She said the report's weakness is that its goal was "not of being satisfied beyond all reasonable doubt that a violation was committed but rather having reasonable suspicion that the incident did occur".

This, her letter says, means "UN investigators employed the lowest evidentiary standard" in making such serious allegations.

She suggests that the timing of the report is being driven by people within the UN who seek to damage recently renewed diplomatic ties between Congo and Rwanda. The rapprochement between the neighbouring countries contributed to greater stability in Central Africa.

"The timing of the report only heightens these suspicions as it is being circulated on the eve of Rwanda's presidential election and at a time when Congolese officials are calling for (the UN Mission in Congo) to close up shop," the letter says.

Congo, which also denied the allegations, also questioned the timing of the report, but suggested it was being used to deflect attention from UN peacekeepers' failure to protect civilians in a recent mass gang-rape atrocity.

The Rwandan letter said "attempts to take action on this report - either through its release or leaks to the media - will force us to withdraw from Rwanda's various commitments to the United Nations, especially in the area of peacekeeping".

Rwanda contributes thousands of troops to peacekeeping missions in Chad, Haiti, Liberia and Sudan.

Ms Mushikiwabo's letter was written before the report's leak this week.

The draft report said the Rwandan troops and their Congolese rebel allies targeted Hutus and killed tens of thousands over months, the majority of whom were women, children, the sick and the elderly who posed no threat. Most were bludgeoned to death with hoes, axes and hammers.

"Upon entering a locality, they ordered the people to gather together ... Once they were assembled, the civilians were bound and killed by blows of hammers or hoes to the head," it says.

Rwanda invaded Congo in 1996, saying it was going after those who committed the genocide.

Many were in refugee camps in Congo, which they used as a base for attacks on Tutsis in Congo and for cross-border raids into Rwanda. Rwandan rebels remain in Congo and have been terrorising the population ever since.