By Olive Mukahirwa
President Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta of Kenya welcomed five presidents from East African Community (EAC) member countries to Nairobi on June 20. Their shared objective was to find a solution to the tensions and violence currently raging in the eastern area of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Those tensions have been simmering for months, but heightened since March, when fighting between the M23 rebel group and the Armed Forces of Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC) intensified in North Kivu Province. Each country blames the other. DRC alleges that Rwanda backs the rebel group; Rwanda rejects those allegations and accuses DRC of attacks on its territory.
The heads of state ordered an immediate ceasefire and cessation of hostilities. Orders included withdrawal from Bunagana Town, which was recently taken from FARDC by M23. And the EAC proposed the intervention of a regional joint force to restore peace. DRC has requested the exclusion of the Rwandan army from the intervention.Despite the meetings, tensions between the countries continue to rise. Last week, a Congolese soldier was shot dead, 25 meters inside Rwandan territory.
He had been shooting at Rwandan police officers from a station along the border, according to a statement from the Rwanda Defense Force. His corpse was handed over to FARDC in the presence of the Expanded Joint Verification Mechanism.
Rwanda’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Vincent Biruta condemned statements by representatives of the DRC in an interview with France 24. “Let me say that there are mechanisms in place here to deal with those situations, and we have a joint verification mechanism which is in place to verify those allegations, so if anyone goes out and says what he thinks and makes those statements; that is irresponsible. They are talking about the alleged presence of Rwandan soldiers in DRC, but they are not talking about the cross border shelling of an army of DRC forces into Rwanda,” Biruta said.
We would like all these partners to tell the whole story, and talk about all the hate speeches, and incitements to violence, happening in DRC. They should give the whole context – Vincent Biruta
Rwanda also accuses DR Congo of harboring the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, known as FDLR, a rebel group which is on the U.S. terrorist group list, suspected by Rwanda to be supporting FARDC and working closely with MONUSCO, the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the DR Congo. FDRL is believed to include primarily members of the genocidal former government. According to Human Right Watch, more than 130 armed groups are still active in eastern DR Congo, including FDLR.
Relations between Rwanda and DRC began to deteriorate after the 1994 genocide against Tutsi in Rwanda, when members of the armed genocidal government of Rwanda took refuge in eastern Congo. Since then, DR Congo has known no peace.
In 2019, when President Felix Tshisekedi won the DRC election, the two countries signed different bilateral agreements to enhance trade and diplomatic ties, but now DRC has suspended all those agreements, including routes of the Rwandan airline, RwandAir.