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Dutch aid to Rwanda under scrutiny over Congo

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Rebel soldiers carrying a soldier they claim belongs to the FDLR group, wounded in the village of Kiwanja, eastern Congo, on Wednesday. (Photo: Associated Press)

Kigali: As the violence in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) rages, renewed debate is going on in The Netherlands about the wisdom of providing Rwanda with developmental assistance, RNA can exclusively reveal.

The Kinshasa government alleges that Rwanda is the launching ground for the war effort of dissident General Laurent Nkunda. The UN has also claimed that Rwandan forces fired at its peacekeepers in there.

For DRC government, President Paul Kagame last week dismissed at length the accusations. Mr. Kagame also shot back at the UN force - known as MONUC.

"What is the use of this mission?" he asked in Kigali during a press conference on Thursday, adding that more than a billion dollars is spent on it annually.  

Rwanda gets around 230 million euros in foreign aid a year.  The Netherlands is one of the donor countries.

President Paul Kagame was one of the participants in Friday's summit on the crisis in the DRC. Proponents of continued aid to Rwanda say that Mr. Kagame took part in the talks because the aid is an inducement to taking a more conciliatory role, Radio Netherlands International reported.

Opponents on the other hand, according to the report by the public broadcaster, say that since Rwanda is part of the problem in the DRC, aid should be suspended.

Mr. Arend Jan Boekestijn, Member of Parliament for the conservative opposition VVD party in the Dutch parliament, is bitter that his country gives more than 17 million euros in aid to Rwanda every year.

"Mr. Kagame supports rebel leader General Nkunda, who is responsible for an enormous amount of misery", he told the broadcaster.  

Mr. Paul Hoebink, Professor of Developmental DSudies at the Radboud University in Nijmegen, says the extent of Kagame's involvement is difficult to prove.

Rwanda has moved into DRC trice in pursuit of Genocide militias that had taken refuge there – often attacking civilians along the Rwanda-RDC border.  

Officials in Rwanda say the Kinshasa government has failed to keep its promise to disarm the FDLR militias – some of who stand accused in Rwanda of Genocide.

Cut off funds?

On the contry, another Dutch Labour Member of the European Parliament, Mr. Thijs Berman admits that President Kagame is a leader who has made many mistakes. However, he still does not think that aid to Rwanda should be cut off.

He also told Radio Netherlands that because of the large amount of aid Rwanda has received over the past 15 years it has made an enormous amount of progress.

"The progress made in this country deserves considerable respect", he pointed out.

Mr. Paul Hoebink of Radboud University also agrees that aid to Rwanda should continue. "How is a land which has had 800,000 of its people massacred to recover otherwise?" he said.  

Mr. Hoebink says that local organisations in Rwanda also give him the impression that the human rights situation has improved.

He added: "Things are moving slowly but they are going in the right direction. Who knows, maybe Rwanda might be looting even more of the DRC's resources if it wasn't getting developmental assistance?"

Good governance

Proponents of aid say that by giving money, donors can pressure the Rwanda government. For instance, they can demand that President Kagame take part in the summit over the Congo crisis, the broadcaster reported.  

The Dutch ministry of development cooperation prefers to call it "a critical dialogue". The Dutch funds are used mainly towards promoting peace and security in the region and good governance.

VVD MP Boekestijn says this is nonsense. "We are not capable of exporting good governance. We are helping a horrid regime stay in power."

It is the probably the first time that the Dutch at any level have come out to openly criticize Rwanda. The Dutch Embassy in Kigali has provided direct funding to controversial UMUSESO newspaper that is critical of government to apparently promote free speech.

In 2001, the Embassy financed UMUSESO to the tune of 37,000 euros (about 30million Francs) for purchasing equipment, production costs, vehicle, rent and other expenses, according to the Netherlands Institute of International Relations – a Dutch think-tank.

It is however not clear if the support continued. (End)


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