Rwanda fury at child soldier sanctions

Web_photo_M23 rebels_30nov2012

Jeeps full of M23 rebels drive towards the town of Sake in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo on November 30, 2012.

KIGALI - Rwanda&39;s army slammed United States sanctions for the use of child soldiers by rebels it is accused of supporting in Democratic Republic of Congo, saying it had no factual basis.

"It is surprising that Rwanda would be liable for matters that are neither on its territory nor in its practices," army spokesman Joseph Nzabamwita said in a statement on Friday, adding that the "decision to include Rwanda among states that use child soldiers is not based on evidence or facts."

The United Nations accuses Rwanda of backing the M23 rebels in neighbouring eastern DR Congo, a charge the country has adamantly denied.

On Thursday, US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield said Washington was invoking the 2008 Child Soldiers Protection Act in sanctioning Rwanda as a measure seeking to end "any involvement in the recruitment of child soldiers".

A senior US State Department official said the measures terminated financial and military assistance in the fiscal year 2014, which began on October 1.

"As a long term partner of the Rwanda Defence Force, the United States has ample evidence that our forces have never tolerated the use of children in combat," Nzabamwita said, adding that Kigali would continue to work with the US.

"Rwanda&39;s commitment to a sustainable solution that seeks to bring an end to the DRC conflict and its consequences, including the use of child soldiers, remains unchanged."

The M23 was founded by former Tutsi rebels who were incorporated into the Congolese army under a 2009 peace deal.

In April 2012, the M23 turned their guns on their former comrades and launched the latest rebellion to ravage DR Congo&39;s mineral-rich and conflict-prone east.