A draft UN report has bolstered allegations that the government of Rwanda has been supplying arms and even child soldiers to Tutsi rebels whose military surge in the Democratic Republic of Congo has displaced 250,000 people since August.
The deeply sensitive document has been drawn up by a panel of experts appointed by the UN secretary general. Parts of it were presented to members of the 15-nation UN sanctions committee in New York yesterday, sources close to the authors told The Independent. The report's leaked conclusions will be an acute embarrassment for the Rwandan President, Paul Kagame, who has repeatedly denied charges that his government has been supplying arms and soldiers to the rebel faction of Laurent Nkunda, which would be in flagrant violation of a UN arms embargo.
The report, when it is made public, could also prove politically toxic to Western nations that have been taking President Kagame's claims at face value to justify the continuation of financial aid to his nation. Britain is among the leading donors.
The findings of collaboration with the Tutsi rebels by the Rwandan government came on the same day that some of its leaders as well as officials from the Congolese government were meeting in Nairobi to try to negotiate a ceasefire. Those talks, according to the UN representative there, were already faltering. The Tutsi rebels are led by General Nkunda, a former Congolese army general, who has said he is trying to protect the Tutsi minority.
Additionally, the UN document is said to cite evidence that Congo's army has been at the same time assisting the Hutu-led militia who are part of the chaos, which some 17,000 UN peacekeepers have been unable to quell.
The report, one UN official confirmed late yesterday, will be presented to a full meeting of the UN Security Council on Monday, at which point it will become public. It could lead to a UN resolution seeking to punish the Kagame government for its actions with economic sanctions.
UN sources said proof that Mr Kagame was behind Mr Nkunda's rebellion would be a key step and should enable the international community to put an end to the clandestine support. President Kagame made a low-profile visit to London last week, but it was not known whether government officials confronted him with the findings of the UN panel, which is empowered to investigate breaches of the arms embargo.
President Kagame continued to deny supporting Mr Nkunda during a meeting in Kigali last month with the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, and the French Foreign Minister, Bernard Kouchner.
Fighting in eastern Congo stems from the 1994 genocide in Rwanda when many of the military forces from the Hutu majority fled across the border. Nearly fifteen years later, however, it is being fuelled by a battle for control of rich mineral resources in the region. It is the illegal exploitation of those minerals that has helped to finance the new Tutsi advances.
Most embarrassing for Mr Kagame are the allegations not only that his government has channelled arms to the rebels but also, on at least one occasion, delivered soldiers to him – some of whom have been child recruits.
The UN report also alleges that some of the military bombardments have been launched from inside Rwandan territory.
In Nairobi, the UN envoy Olusegun Obasanjo denied that the peace talks between the rebels and the Congo government had collapsed. But he said that progress has been hampered because rebel representatives have not had the political authority to negotiate meaningfully.
On the ground, the UN force is waiting for reinforcements which have been authorised by the security council. But it is expected to take six months before the additional 3,000 troops arrive. The European Union is divided on proposals for a "bridging force" in anticipation of the additional UN peacekeepers.
"The problem is that we are being asked to carry out tasks that are not feasible," said Hiroute Guebre Selassie, the head of the UN mission in North Kivu province which is struggling to deal with the humanitarian crisis triggered by the rebel advance.
The UN force has come under criticism for failing to protect civilians from rebel attack despite the presence of the largest peacekeeping mission in the world. But Ms Selassie said that the conflict was evolving on such a large scale in dense forest and, "the expectations of the people is one thing, but MONUC (the UN force) has to do things that are feasible."