LONDON (Reuters) - Britain said on Friday it would release a 16 million pound ($24.29 million) aid package to Rwanda, the first since support was withheld in November, but would bypass the government and channel funds through aid agencies instead.
Britain, one of Rwanda's largest donors, withheld 21 million pounds of support for the Kigali government's budget late last year due to "credible" reports of Rwandan support for the M23 rebel group in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo.
"The reprogrammed development assistance will be channelled through projects that directly reach and protect the poorest people in Rwanda," British International Development Secretary Justine Greening said in a statement.
"In line with my earlier decision regarding the breach of the partnership principles, it is not appropriate to release any of these funds as general budget support," Greening said.
The aid package includes direct payments to half a million people living in poverty, the distribution of more than a million textbooks to school children and provisions for independent aid agencies working in refugee camps, the Department for International Development (DFID) said.
Rwanda relies on donors for about 40 percent of its budget. President Paul Kagame has won international praise for progress since the 1994 genocide in his bid to transform Rwanda into a middle-income country by 2020. But critics accuse him of being authoritarian and trampling on media and political freedoms.
A number of Western partners suspended aid last year after a United Nations report said Rwanda was behind a rebellion responsible for the worst fighting in eastern Congo for years.
Rwanda has strongly denied any involvement with Congo's M23 rebel group, whose clashes with the Congolese army forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes.
M23 rebel fighters withdrew from Congo's eastern border city of Goma in December, but a second day of clashes between rival rebel factions on Friday risked complicating efforts to find a lasting peace in the region.
(Reporting by Alice Baghdjian; Editing by Rosalind Russell)