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US sanctions Rwanda over rebel use of child soldiers

A child watches as Congolese government army soldiers return to the military barracks in Goma eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo on December 3, 2012
A child watches as Congolese government army soldiers return to the military barracks in Goma eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo on December 3, 2012

The United States slapped sanctions on Rwanda over the use of child soldiers by rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo which Kigali is accused of backing.

Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield said that the United States was invoking the 2008 Child Soldiers Protection Act in sanctioning Rwanda, as Washington seeks to end "any involvement in the recruitment of child soldiers."

The sanctions were linked to actions by the M23, a group of former rebels who were integrated in the army in 2009 but mutinied last year.

"We will continue to have discussions with the Rwandan government on that issue," Thomas-Greenfield said.

Rwanda's army on Friday slammed the sanctions.

"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, adding that the "decision to include Rwanda among states that use child soldiers is not based on evidence or facts."

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

"This ends all international military education and training in financial year 2014," the official said.

"The US will however continue to support peacekeeping training that is not restricted to this child soldiers prevention act."

State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said Rwanda was being sanctioned for supporting M23, describing it as "a rebel group which continues to actively recruit and abduct children" and "threatens peace and stability in the Eastern DRC."

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's mineral-rich and conflict-prone east.

The United Nations accuses Rwanda of backing the M23, a charge the country has adamantly denied.

The UN and various rights groups have accused the M23 of atrocities, including rape and murder, in addition to the use of child soldiers, in a conflict that has caused tens of thousands of refugees to flee.

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