LONDON (Reuters) - Rwandan President Paul Kagame attacked the United Nations on Thursday over a leaked report saying Rwandan troops may have committed genocide and criticised a rights group that found fault with last month’s election.
Rwanda threatened to pull out its troops from U.N. peacekeeping missions last month after the leaked report on crimes alleged to have been committed by various forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo during the 1990s, including the charge that Rwandan troops may have committed genocide.
Asked if the report damaged his legitimacy, Kagame said: “I don’t imagine that my legitimacy is something that would just be washed away by such allegations.”
Kagame, answering reporters’ questions after giving a speech at London’s International Institute for Strategic Studies, said the allegations in the U.N. report were “baseless and totally untrue and flawed in many ways, right from the authors of the report to the methods used”.
“If there was anything to be questioned about anything that could have gone wrong either in the Congo or the Great Lakes region or particularly in Rwanda, it should have been the U.N. to really be held accountable for that,” he said.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon took Rwanda’s threat to withdraw peacekeepers so seriously he flew to Rwanda last week to talk to Kagame. Ban said they had agreed on the importance of Rwanda staying in peacekeeping operations.
Kagame said the countries mentioned in the report were working with the U.N. “to find where to place the problems they referred to”.
U.N. peacekeepers were widely criticised for failing to prevent the 1994 slaughter of 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Rwanda that ended only after Tutsi-led fighters under Kagame retook control of the country.
Rwanda’s army then invaded Congo, ostensibly to hunt down Hutu fighters who had taken part in the killings and fled into eastern Congo, then known as Zaire.
In the process, Rwandan forces helped sweep the Congolese AFDL rebels of Laurent Kabila to power in Congo. Both forces have been accused of a string of rights abuses against Hutu fighters and civilians across the country.
Kagame, re-elected last month with 93 percent of the vote, has been praised for rebuilding Rwanda and establishing peace in the aftermath of the 1994 genocide, but his government has also faced accusations of stifling political opposition.
Kagame sharply rebuked a representative of New York-based rights group Human Rights Watch who asked whether he planned to expand the “political space” in Rwanda so future elections could take place in an atmosphere of genuine political competition.
Human Rights Watch researcher Carina Tertsakian said last month the election was marked by a “climate of intimidation and exclusion of the opposition and critical voices”.
“Rwandans have no problems of freedom. It is important you respect them and respect their opinion as well,” Kagame told Tom Porteous, head of Human Rights Watch’s London office.
“I also want to say we probably need freedom from Human Rights Watch,” he said.