Uganda maintained a threat to withdraw troops from international peacekeeping operations after UN talks over accusations that it has backed rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Uganda’s Communications and Information Minister Ruhakana Rugunda told AFP his country felt “stabbed in the back” by a UN report which said Uganda and Rwanda have helped M23 rebels who are battling DR Congo government forces.
Uganda, a major contributor to peacekeeping forces in Somalia, Ivory Coast, Sudan’s troubled Darfur region and East Timor, has threatened to withdraw its soldiers unless the allegations are withdrawn.
Rugunda met with UN deputy secretary general Jan Eliasson and ambassadors from the 15-member UN Security Council to express outrage at the report.
“I said Uganda will withdraw from its peaceful engagements in the region unless there is definitive assurance from our neighbors in the region and also from the United Nations system,” Rugunda said in the interview.
“We are waiting now to see how the Security Council will deal with the subject,” he added.
UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said the world body has had “no official communication” from Uganda about the report and UN diplomats said no official threat to withdraw has yet been made.
The report on DR Congo by UN sanctions committee experts has infuriated Uganda and Rwanda, which both border the eastern region where M23 has been battling the government since March.
The experts said Uganda had “actively supported” M23, a movement formed by mutinied soldiers.
The report quoted DR Congo army commanders and former M23 officers who said Uganda had deployed about 600 troops alongside Rwandan forces to help the rebels prepare attacks.
Rugunda said people who reported the troops to the United Nations had probably mistaken them for about 600 DR Congo troops who fled across the border to Uganda and were eventually sent back in July.
The minister noted that Uganda is the current chair of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, and that Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni is leading a mediation effort for DR Congo.
Rugunda said allegations in the report were an attempt to present Uganda as “a traitorous nation, after the president of the country has accepted the responsibility to mediate.”
Rugunda said the allegations risk undermining efforts to bring peace to DR Congo.
“I don’t think relations in the Great Lakes region have been better in a very long time,” Rugunda said, noting that the group had held four summits in four months with the presence of DR Congo’s President Joseph Kabila and his Rwandan counterpart Paul Kagame.
The UN report could “derail the region” as it strives for a political solution to the conflict in eastern DR Congo, he added.
The UN Security Council is due to discuss the international force in Somalia on Wednesday. Uganda provides more than a third of the 17,000 troops in the African Union-led mission there, which is propping up a new government.
The Security Council has already passed a statement threatening sanctions against M23 leaders.
Rugunda said the council statement was “more or less endorsing” the group of experts, “so it lent a lot of weight to a report that was inaccurate.”
“We would like to be reassured that really this report is not supported by the Security Council, by the UN system. Because we felt stabbed in the back.”
A western official said Uganda made “strong complaints” about the UN report but that he expected the country to keep its troops in UN missions.