By Michelle Nichols and Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Rwanda - along with Australia and Argentina - won a seat on the U.N. Security Council on Thursday, despite accusations by a U.N. expert panel that the Rwandan defense minister is commanding a rebellion in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo.
Rwanda was unopposed in its bid for the African seat on the council that South Africa will vacate at the end of December, but still needed approval from two-thirds of the U.N. General Assembly members present to secure the two-year term. It won 148 votes.
Argentina also was elected to the council unopposed, winning 182 votes in the 193-nation assembly. Australia won a seat as well with 140 votes. At least one further round of voting was taking place to decide the remaining two seats up for grabs.
Cambodia, Bhutan and South Korea are competing for one Asia-Pacific seat. With Australia's victory secured, Finland and Luxembourg are up for the other remaining seat available in the "Western European and Others" group.
A confidential U.N. report, seen by Reuters on Tuesday, cast a shadow over Rwanda's election to the 15-member U.N. powerhouse - which has the ability to impose sanctions and authorize military interventions.
There are five veto-holding permanent members of the council - the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China - and 10 temporary members without vetoes. Thursday's election was for the term from January 1, 2013, to December 31, 2014.
Before the vote, the Congo's delegation told the General Assembly it objected to Rwanda joining the Security Council, accusing its neighbor of harboring "war criminals operating in the eastern part of the DRC and who are being sought by international justice."
The Security Council's "Group of Experts" said that Rwanda and Uganda - despite their strong denials - continued to support M23 rebels in their six-month fight against Congolese government troops in the east of the country.
Rwandan U.N. diplomat Olivier Nduhungirehe said on Wednesday that Rwanda was not worried about the report's impact on its Security Council bid.
"The members of the General Assembly know exactly what our record is and they cannot be deterred or swayed by a baseless report, which has no credibility," Nduhungirehe said.
"We are the sixth (biggest) troop-contributing country for peacekeeping, we are a leading country in achieving the Millennium Development Goals, we have a record in post-conflict reconstruction and peace building," he said.
In addition to South Africa, four countries - Colombia, Germany, India and Portugal - are leaving the Security Council in December. Azerbaijan, Guatemala, Pakistan, Togo and Morocco will remain on the council until the end of 2013.
The last time Rwanda was on the council was in 1994-95. That coincided with a genocide in which 800,000 people were killed when Rwanda's Hutu-led government and ethnic militias went on a 100-day killing spree, massacring Tutsis and moderate Hutus.
A senior Western diplomat said on condition of anonymity that he hoped Rwanda's presence on the council would have a "positive effect" on the body's handling of Congo, although he acknowledged it was possible the opposite would be the case.
He said getting unanimity among the 15 council members on Congo's rebellion might be difficult with Rwanda in the room.
The Congolese government on Wednesday demanded targeted sanctions against Rwandan and Ugandan officials named in the U.N. experts report.
According to the U.N. experts, who monitor compliance with sanctions and an arms embargo on the Congo, Rwandan Defense Minister General James Kabarebe was ultimately commanding the rebellion and both Rwanda and Uganda were providing weapons, troops and military and political aid to the insurgency.
(Editing by Paul Simao)
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