Rwanda on Monday accused the Democratic Republic of Congo of “continued military escalation” in eastern DRC.
Relations between the Central African neighbors have worsened since the resurgence last November of a mostly Congolese Tutsi group, the M23, which had been dormant for years.
The DRC has accused its smaller neighbor Rwanda of backing the militia, something officials in Kigali deny.
“Contrary to statements by the DRC president (claiming) that his country is focused on a diplomatic resolution of the conflict in eastern DRC, recent statements and actions” show that Kinshasa is “on the path of continued military escalation,” the Rwandan government said in a statement.
In a report, this month Human Rights Watch accused DR Congo’s army of backing a notorious Rwandan Hutu rebel group in recent clashes with the M23 militia.
The NGO said the Congolese military had armed and fought alongside a coalition of militias implicated in abuses.
This included the FDLR, a Rwandan Hutu rebel group based in the DRC which the Rwandan government views as a threat and has regularly accused Kinshasa of supporting.
While Rwanda has denied backing the M23 militia, a report by independent United Nations experts seen by AFP in August found that Kigali had provided direct support to the M23.
While denouncing the “provocations” of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda reaffirmed its “firm commitment to contribute to a sustainable” and “peaceful” solution to the conflict.
Eastern DRC has suffered from armed conflict since the 1990s. The violence has intensified in recent years, with more than 7,380 civilians killed between 2017 and April 2022, according to the Kivu Security Tracker.
President Félix Tshisekedi has imposed a state of siege — similar to a state of emergency — in North Kivu since May 2021 in an attempt to reduce violence. Instead, insecurity has escalated and Amnesty International found that authorities have used the state of siege to restrict the exercise of freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly and carry out other human rights violations with impunity.
The M23 movement’s attacks in North Kivu resumed in November 2021, eight years after the group was militarily defeated by the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the UN Force Intervention Brigade. Its recent demands include the implementation by the DRC government of the 2013 Nairobi Agreement, which provided amnesty to M23 members and included their repatriation to the DRC.
The DRC government accuses Rwanda of aggression using M23 as a proxy, and the speaker of DRC’s National Assembly was quoted in the media as accusing Uganda of having sided with M23 and Rwanda during the battle for Bunagana in North Kivu on 13 June 2022. Conversely, Rwanda accuses the DRC of aggression and colluding with members of the Rwandan Hutu rebels of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) operating in eastern DRC, which contains remnants of the Interahamwe militia and former Rwandan soldiers responsible for the 1994 Rwandan genocide, as well as fighters not involved in the genocide, including many too young to have participated.
At a summit held in Nairobi on 20 June, Heads of State of the East African Community including DRC’s Félix Tshisekedi called on all armed groups in eastern DRC to cease hostilities and directed an immediate ceasefire. They approved the dispatch of a regional force whose mission would be to disarm local and foreign armed groups that fail to disarm voluntarily.