LONDON (Reuters) - Britain said on Friday it was withholding 21 million pounds ($34 million) of aid to Rwanda because of reports the African state is supporting rebels in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo.
The UK, Rwanda's largest bilateral donor, is the latest Western partner to freeze aid to Kigali following an independent United Nations report that Rwanda is behind an eight-month-old rebellion responsible for the worst fighting in eastern Congo for years.
Britain's International Development Secretary Justine Greening said the funds, which had been due to be disbursed in December, would not be released because Rwanda's government had breached the principles underlying their aid agreement.
Rwanda has repeatedly denied any involvement with Congo's M23 rebel group, whose clashes with the Congolese army have forced around 470,000 people to flee their homes.
"The government has already set out its concerns over credible and compelling reports of Rwandan involvement with M23 in DRC," Greening said in a statement.
"This evidence constitutes a breach of the partnership principles set out in the Memorandum of Understanding and, as a result, I have decided not to release the next payment of budget support to Rwanda."
Britain had already frozen budget support to Rwanda in July, after a UN interim report accused officials in Rwanda of backing M23. The findings prompted other major Western partners, including the European Union and the United States, to suspend aid to Rwanda, which relies on such support for about 40 percent of its budget.
However, Britain's former international development secretary Andrew Mitchell unblocked part of the cash in September, praising the Rwandan state for what he said were its constructive efforts to solve the conflict.
Britain has long been one of Rwanda's staunchest allies. On its website, Britain's Department for International Development says it plans to spend an average of 83 million pounds per year in Rwanda until 2015.
It also said on Friday it would provide a further 18 million pounds of support for immediate humanitarian needs in Congo.
(Reporting by Natalie Huet; editing by Andrew Roche)