The Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda have traded accusations of links to rebel groups operating in a volatile region of eastern Congo. The chair of the African Union has called for a reduction of tensions.
African Union chair Macky Sall on Sunday called for “calm and dialogue” between the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Rwanda after both sides accused the other of supporting rebel groups operating along their shared border.
“I am gravely concerned about the rise in tension between Rwanda and the DRC,” tweeted Sall, the Senegalese president who currently chairs the AU.
Sall appealed to the two countries “for calm and dialogue for a peaceful resolution of the crisis with the support of regional mechanisms and the African Union.”
Neighbors trade accusations
On Saturday, Rwanda said two of its soldiers were being held captive by rebels and accused the DRC government of backing those responsible.
Kigali called for Congolese authorities to work for the release of the troops, who were abducted earlier this week after what it described as an attack along the border by DRC forces and rebels of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).
Earlier on Saturday, the DRC accused Rwanda of backing another rebel group, M23, which last month resumed its campaign of violence in the volatile eastern Congo.
In retaliation, Kinshasa suspended flights to the DRC by Rwanda’s flag carrier RwandAir and summoned Kigali’s ambassador.
M23 seen as a major threat
M23 is a primarily Congolese Tutsi group responsible for a separate uprising a decade ago.
The militia briefly captured North Kivu’s provincial capital Goma in late 2012, before the army quelled the rebellion a year later.
Fighting between Congolese forces and M23 erupted on several fronts this week in North Kivu, which borders Rwanda.
M23 says the DRC government has failed to honor a 2009 agreement under which its fighters were to be incorporated into the army.
Kinshasa said on Saturday that in response to the surge in violence, it had designated M23 a terrorist group and would exclude it from peace talks being held in Kenya with other militia groups active in eastern DRC.
The United Nations said on Friday the fresh clashes had displaced 72,000 people, and warned that those on the run faced constant violence and the looting of their homes.
Long-strained ties had begun to improve
The DRC and Rwanda have had a tumultuous relationship since the mass arrival in the republic of Rwandan Hutus accused of slaughtering Tutsis during the 1994 Rwanda genocide.
Ties had thawed after DRC President Felix Tshisekedi took office in 2019 and last year, the neighbors signed three bilateral agreements to further enhance trade and diplomatic ties.
But Kinshasa has regularly accused Rwanda of carrying out incursions into its territory, and of backing armed groups there.