JOHANNESBURG – Ugandan officials on Wednesday dismissed allegations in a United Nations report that Uganda supports rebels in eastern Congo, saying the claims are intended to undermine efforts by regional leaders to stem violence in the central African country.
Ugandan Foreign Affairs Minister Okello Oryem said the claims were made "in bad faith and intended to cause mischief."
"It's a heap of rubbish," said Oryem, whose ministry received a copy of the U.N. experts' report, which has been leaked. "It's malicious and it's intended to undermine the efforts of Uganda to bring peace to the Democratic Republic of Congo."
James Mugume, the permanent secretary in Uganda's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the report accuses Uganda of actively supporting the M23 rebels in eastern Congo, whose mutiny has caused more than 200,000 villagers in the province of North Kivu to flee their homes.
The allegations come as Uganda is leading a regional effort to resolve Congo's rebel crisis by deploying a peace-enforcement force in eastern Congo. The regional effort, called the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), has recently held a series of meetings in which a "natural international force" of 4,000 troops contributed by regional governments would be sent to police eastern Congo. But the force has not yet been deployed, as it lacks funding and its mandate is not clear.
Oryem said the regional efforts have exposed the unreliability of the U.N. peacekeeping force in the Congo. He said there had been a "lull in the violence" since the ICGLR started meeting over the Congo crisis, even though the well-armed rebels still control a huge part of eastern Congo.
"They want to sabotage our efforts," Oryem said, referring to the U.N. "They have been there and they failed."
The U.N. maintains nearly 20,000 troops in eastern Congo, the largest peacekeeping force in the world.
The M23 rebels -- the latest incarnation of a group of Congolese Tutsi rebels set up to fight Rwandan Hutu rebels in Congo -- launched their rebellion in April after accusing the Congolese government of breaking promises made in a March 2009 peace deal that integrated them into the Congo army. The rebels are allegedly led by Bosco Ntaganda, a renegade general who is wanted for war crimes but whose current whereabouts are not known. The rebels, who now control hills within 30 kilometers (20 miles) of the eastern provincial capital Goma, have set up parallel administrative structures in the territories they control.
Rwanda, which faced allegations of arming the rebels in an earlier report by U.N. experts, has denied the charges.