from JEAN KASSONGO in Kinshasa, DRC
KINSHASA, (CAJ News) – THE resurgent spat between Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Rwanda further complicates one of the world’s most complex conflicts.
The diplomatic fallout is a major blow to renewed regional efforts to curb insurgency in DRC and subsequently, the Great Lakes region.
Hardly a month after the DRC was admitted to the East African Community (EAC), tensions with neighbor and fellow bloc member Rwanda are at their highest in years.
Following the inception of DRC into the bloc, leaders of Burundi, DRC, Kenya and Rwanda were contemplating a regional force to neutralise rebel groups operating in Congolese territory.
This latest bilateral row also coincides with landmark mediation efforts by Kenya in DRC’s domestic crisis also suffering a disaster after the resurgent March 23 (M23) rebels’ delegation was expelled from the talks after its continued attacks which are against the spirit of mediation efforts.
Previously active between 2012 and 2013, the group has in current months emerged DRC’s biggest security threat.
Rwanda and Congo have exchanged accusations about the M23 crisis.
Conflict between old nemesis has escalated in recent days after Congolese accusations that the latter was supporting the rebels, active in the eastern region.
DRC summoned Rwanda’s ambassador and expressed its anger.
This past weekend, Rwanda said that two of its soldiers were being held captive after being abducted by Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a largely Rwandan Hutu armed group operating in DRC.
Rwanda has alleged that the Congolese army was collaborating with the FDLR.
Congolese authorities last weekend suspended flights by RwandAir.
On Monday, scores of Congolese embarked on an anti-Rwanda protest in the capital Kinshasa and demanded the expulsion of envoys from the neighbouring country.
DRC and Rwanda relations have been tense since the mass arrival in eastern Congo of Rwandan Hutus accused of massacring Tutsis during the 1994 genocide in the latter.
Two years later, they quarreled on an invasion by Rwanda into eastern Congo and again in 1998.
In 2009, Presidents Paul Kagame and Joseph Kabila respectively ended the hostilities with a meeting.
Ties were also warm under the presidency of Kagame and DRC’s Felix Tshisekedi, in power since 2019.
This week, African Union (AU) chairperson, Macky Sall, expressed concern by the rising tension between the neighbouring nations.
“I call on the two countries for calm and dialogue for the peaceful resolution of the crisis with the support of regional mechanisms and the African Union,” Sall, the Senegalese president, stated.
He confirmed speaking to Kagame and Tshisekedi over the telephone “in the quest for a peaceful solution to the dispute.”
President Joao Lourenco of Angola is also mediating in his capacity as head of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR).
Lourenco met Tshisekedi on Tuesday and later had a virtual meeting with Kagame. A breakthrough was reached when the leaders of the warring countries agreed to participate at a summit to be held in Angola at a date yet to be announced.
DRC pledged to ensure the release of the Rwandan soldiers.
Moussa Faki Mahamat, the African Union Commission (AUC) chairperson, welcomed the breakthrough.
“I strongly encourage the two brotherly countries to resolve any differences through dialogue and friendly consultation,” he stated.
Meanwhile, the fallout between M23 and other parties of the talks in Kenya has coincided with intense warfare by the militants.
The talks between DRC and rebel groups have suffered a setback after the M23 perpetrated fresh violence that uprooted thousands of people east of the country.
The clashes between the national army and M23 mainly in the North Kivu territory of Rutshuru have caused more than 72 000 people to flee their homes in the space of one week.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) recalled past fighting between government forces and the rebels resulted in widespread abuses against the civilian population and prolonged humanitarian crises.
“The M23 armed group was responsible for countless atrocities in the past and the renewed fighting in North Kivu raises grave concerns about the danger to civilians in the area,” said Thomas Fessy, senior Congo researcher at HRW.
“All parties, including rebel forces, security forces of Congo and its neighbours, and United Nations peacekeepers, are obligated under international law to spare civilians,” Fessy said.
At the end of April about 30 delegates from other rebel groups had met representatives of Tshisekedi in Nairobi, Kenya.
More meetings were scheduled for the coming weeks.
All foreign armed groups in the DRC were urged to disarm and return to their countries of origin.
The situation DRC was featured in the meeting between Foreign Minister Christophe Lutundula and United States Secretary of State, Antony Blinken.
At the meeting in the US, Blinken expressed support to efforts to deal with the crises.
“I must say, in particular we applaud the diplomatic efforts that we see underway for the Nairobi initiative and pursuit of a lasting peace in the region, something the US very much supports,” he said.
Lutundula said, “We are going through difficult times at the moment.”
The International Crisis Group warned it could still get worse.
“Tshisekedi’s decision to bring in foreign troops could upend the already unstable eastern DRC, sparking a proxy war or reinvigorating Congolese rebels,” it stated.
– CAJ News