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Sweden freezes aid to Rwanda

Sweden has announced that it is provisionally suspending aid to the African nation of Rwanda. The decision comes amid reports that Rwanda is backing rebels fighting in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

"We have chosen to hold off with aid to shed light on what is going on in Congo and how they (the Rwandan authorities) are involved," Swedish Cooperation Minister Gunilla Carlsson told Swedish Radio News on Monday.

Speaking to AFP, Swedish foreign ministry spokesperson Eva Sundquist said that Rwanda should "take up its responsibilities for the development of the region."

Asked by AFP what a partial freeze of Swedish aid would entail, the Swedish foreign ministry gave no details.

In 2011, Swedish aid to Rwanda amounted to about 215 million kronor (26 million euros, $32.2 million).

While the Swedes have not given direct support to the Rwandan government since 2008, Sweden finances development projects in areas including human rights, environmental initiatives and free trade, according to Sundquist.

Sweden is not the first country to suspend aid to Rwanda. The United States, Germany and the Netherlands each suspended all or part of their aid to the country following a June UN report that accused high-ranking Rwandan government officials of backing the rebel group M23, an organization composed of army mutineers fighting in the eastern part of DR Congo. The Rwandan government denies the allegations.

Vocal diplomacy

Teddy bears with the message Free Speech Now hang in a tree in Belarus

A teddy bear drop in Belarus led to the expulsion of Swedish diplomats

Sweden has been involved in a number of diplomatic rows of late. Also on Monday, Swedish defense minister Karin Enström called Saudi Arabia a "dictatorship" that has little regard for human rights.

"Saudi Arabia is an authoritarian regime and an absolute monarchy, where serious human rights crimes are committed," Enström wrote in Swedish in an email to Swedish news agency TT.

Enström's comments were supported by foreign minister Carl Bildt, who took to Twitter to defend her. "I usually describe Saudi Arabia as an absolute monarchy," Bildt wrote in Swedish.

In early August, Sweden expelled Belarusian diplomats in a tit-for-tat move. Swedish diplomats had previously been ordered to leave the reclusive Eastern European country after a Swedish public relations firm dropped more than 800 teddy bears near Minsk carrying messages advocating freedom of speech.

bm/msh (AFP, dpa)