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DAKAR (Reuters) - U.N. experts have evidence Rwanda's defence minister and two top military officials have been backing an army mutiny in the east of neighbouring Congo, according to notes of their briefing to a closed-door U.N. committee seen by Reuters on Thursday.
The evidence is the strongest yet to indicate high-level support within President Paul Kagame's government for the so-called M23 rebellion, whose stand-off with Congolese forces has caused thousands to flee their homes in the east of the country.
M23 is the name of a group of several hundred soldiers from the Congolese army that have rallied behind Bosco Ntaganda, a mutinous army general with past links to Rwanda who is sought for arrest by the Democratic Republic of Congo and wanted by the International Criminal Court on war crimes charges.
Diplomats say U.N. Security Council member the United States is delaying release of findings of the U.N. Group of Experts, an independent specialist panel on Congo security issues, to allow Rwanda to respond to accusations likely to test ties between the ex-foes.
Rwanda has repeatedly backed armed movements in its eastern neighbour during the last two decades, citing a need to tackle Rwandan rebels operating out of Congo's eastern hills. But this time it has strenuously denied being involved.
The June 13 briefing of the U.N. sanctions committee said the UN Group of Experts had evidence that Rwandan army members had entered Congo to reinforce rebel positions and had provided logistical support and safe passage for Congo rebel leader Bosco Ntaganda and his forces in Rwanda, the notes said.
"The experts have implicated several high-ranking Rwandan officials who are directly involved," said the contemporaneous notes of the briefing in New York seen by Reuters, which added the U.N. material had been verified by five separate sources.
The notes listed those officials supporting M23 as Defence Minister James Kaberebe; chief of defence staff Charles Kayonga; and General Jacques Nziza, a military adviser to Kagame. Kaberebe, they said, was "in constant contact with M23".
No comment from the defence ministry was immediately available. However Kagame this week said the instability had nothing to do with Rwanda and accused others of trying to blame Kigali for Congo's internal problems.
An M23 officer contacted by Reuters denied receiving Rwandan support, adding that any such backing would have allowed them to gain ground in the battle with regular Congolese forces.
"If a single time the Rwandans had supported us we wouldn't be on this hill - we would be far away from this. This action is purely Congolese," Colonel Vianney Kazarama said by phone.
The UN briefing was verbal. A written report of the Group of Experts findings is due in coming days to be submitted to the U.N. sanctions committee ahead of its final publication. There is no indication at this stage of any push to impose UN sanctions on either Rwanda or Congo.
The Group of Experts declined to comment on the notes or the content of the briefing. Separately, Congo's Communications Minister Lambert Mende told Reuters he was aware of allegations against senior Rwandan officials, without naming them.
"There are some people of a certain rank cited in the Group of Experts' report and by our own intelligence services ... It's the obligation of the Rwandan president and government to show that they are different entities to those cited," Mende said.