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Blinken in Rwanda to Discuss Tensions  08/11 06:20

   

   KIGALI, Rwanda (AP) -- U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in Rwanda, 
the last stop on his three-nation tour of Africa where he has articulated 
Washington's new strategy for engaging with sub-Saharan African nations as 
"equal partners."

   Blinken comes to Rwanda at a particularly difficult time for Africa's Great 
Lakes region, with the small central African nation at odds with vast neighbor 
Congo over allegations that both governments support rebels opposed to each 
other.

   In a meeting on Thursday with Rwandan President Paul Kagame, Blinken is 
expected to discuss efforts to ease the tensions. Rwanda is rejecting a new 
report by United Nations experts saying they have "solid evidence" that members 
of Rwanda's armed forces are conducting operations in eastern Congo in support 
of the M23 rebel group.

   Blinken has said reports of Rwanda's support for M23 appeared "credible." 
After meeting with authorities in Congo on Tuesday, he said the U.S. will 
support African-led efforts to end the fighting.

   Rwandan authorities in turn accuse Congo of giving refuge to ethnic Hutu 
fighters who played roles in Rwanda's 1994 genocide that killed ethnic Tutsis 
and moderate Hutus. There have long been tensions between the countries. In the 
late 1990s, Rwanda twice sent its forces deep into Congo, joining forces with 
rebel leader Laurent Kabila to depose the country's longtime dictator Mobutu 
Sese Seko.

   Both Rwanda and Congo deny the charges of backing rebel groups, and Rwandan 
authorities have rejected the latest report by U.N. experts as a move "to 
distract from real issues." Rwanda also asserts that its security needs cannot 
be met while armed fugitives from the genocide continue to operate from inside 
Congolese territory.

   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, a cessation of hostilities and the "immediate and unconditional 
withdrawal" of the M23 from its positions in eastern Congo.

   But M23, which comprises mostly ethnic Tutsis from Congo, continues to hold 
its positions near the border with Uganda, keeping the spotlight on Rwanda.

   The chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee in a letter to 
Blinken last month called for a comprehensive review of U.S. policy toward 
Rwanda and noted his concern that Washington's support for Rwanda, widely 
described by human right groups as authoritarian and repressive, is not in line 
with U.S. values.

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

   Paul Rusesabagina, a permanent resident of the U.S. who is jailed in Rwanda 
after his conviction last year on terror-related charges, also is on the 
agenda. Rusesabagina, who achieved fame with the film "Hotel Rwanda" for 
sheltering ethnic Tutsis during the genocide, was a recipient of the U.S. 
Presidential Medal of Freedom.

   In a statement ahead of Blinken's visit, Rwanda's government said it "looks 
forward to a robust exchange of views on governance and human rights, as has 
always been the case in the Rwanda-U.S. bilateral relationship." It 
acknowledged the talks would include Rusesabagina's situation.

   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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