By Michelle Nichols
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The Democratic Republic of Congo accused neighboring Rwanda on Wednesday of supporting a rebellion in the country's east to prevent the arrest of former Congolese general Bosco Ntaganda who is wanted by the International Criminal Court.
The eight-month-old insurgency in a resource-rich Congolese province by M23 rebels was partly triggered by President Joseph Kabila's plan to arrest Ntaganda on international charges of enlisting child soldiers, murder, ethnic persecution and rape.
A group of experts has reported to the U.N. Security Council that Rwandan troops are reinforcing M23 operations and supplying weapons and ammunition, while Rwandan Defense Minister James Kabarebe has been commanding the entire rebellion from Kigali.
"It is clear today that Rwanda has acted to deflect attention in order to remove Bosco Ntaganda from international justice," said Congo's ambassador to France, Ileka Atoki, who spoke to the Security Council as a special government envoy.
Atoki addressed the 15-member council after it unanimously extended for 14 months a sanctions regime on the Democratic Republic of Congo, which includes an arms embargo and individual travel bans and asset freezes, and the mandate for the group of experts - an independent panel that monitors violations of the Congo sanctions regime.
"The clearly shown support of Rwanda to the M23 after the Congolese authorities had said that they were willing to arrest Ntaganda ... is a clear obstacle to carrying out the arrest mandate" of the ICC, said Atoki. He also accused Rwanda of providing safe haven to other wanted war criminals.
WANTED SINCE 2006
Rwanda dismissed the Congolese claims as "far-fetched."
"Bosco Ntaganda is still living in DRC," Rwandan U.N. diplomat Olivier Nduhungirehe told Reuters. "How in the world can the DRC government say Rwanda is protecting Bosco Ntaganda? Are we now responsible for the security on the Congolese soil?"
Ntaganda was integrated into the Congolese army with insurgents as part of a 2009 peace deal. The International Criminal Court in The Hague has been seeking the arrest of Ntaganda since 2006, but Kabila resisted acting on the warrant until April this year, saying Ntaganda was a linchpin in the fragile peace.
Ntaganda and hundreds soldiers defected from the army in March in North Kivu province and joined the M23 rebel group, who accused the Kinshasa government of not respecting the 2009 peace deal. U.N. experts said Ntaganda controls the rebellion on the ground, ultimately receiving orders from Rwanda.
The Congolese government says Rwanda is orchestrating the revolt to grab resources, a claim Kigali denies. U.N. experts say the rebellion is partly funded by traders in Rwanda who are profiting from tin, tungsten and tantalum smuggled across the border from mines in the eastern Congo.
M23 rebels are withdrawing from towns captured since last week from government troops, following a deal brokered by Uganda, their military leader said on Wednesday, but there was no indication they were ending the insurgency.
Atoki again called for U.N. sanctions to be placed on Rwanda's defense minister and other senior Rwandan officials implicated in the U.N. experts report. Nduhungirehe rejected the call, saying some countries were looking for scapegoats.
"Rwanda is not the cause of this crisis in the east of the DRC, nor a party to the conflict," Nduhungirehe said.
(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)