The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is seeking international help after claiming it had been invaded by Rwandan forces in the past few days. Columns of well-armed soldiers thought to be members of the rebel M23 forces crossed into Northern Kivu, an operation DRC officials say was a Rwandan military operation.
“It’s not a rebellion, it’s an invasion. We didn’t think that the Rwandan army would be throwing all its might into Congolese territory,” Erneste Kyaviro, spokesman for North Kivu governor Julien Paluku, told Reuters. Kyaviro appealed for a forceful response by the international community, especially Western nations, to put pressure on Rwanda to halt its alleged support for the rebels. “You don’t need a single shot fired to stop Rwanda,” he said, adding that countries like the United States, Britain, Norway and Belgium should halt their aid to landlocked Kigali to make it end M23 operations in Congolese territory. “We need the help of the whole world,” he said, adding that Rwanda had deployed elite troops along the border near Goma.
No immediate reaction was available from Rwanda’s presidency or foreign ministry, which have in the past strenuously rejected the accusations of Rwandan support for the Congolese insurgency. Rwanda has consistently denied allegations by Congolese officials and United Nations investigators that it is fomenting and supporting the Tutsi-dominated M23 rebel movement in Congo’s mineral-rich North Kivu province, long a tinderbox of regional ethnic and political tensions.
The rebels, described by U.N. officials as apparently well-equipped and growing in number, drove back the Congolese government army in a determined offensive over the last few days, forcing U.N. peacekeepers to withdraw into isolated operating bases in the hilly countryside. One Indian U.N. soldier was killed in a rebel attack last week. The rapid M23 rebel advance has opened the way for a possible assault on the North Kivu provincial capital Goma, where U.N. peacekeepers have reinforced their positions. Goma residents reported that U.N. armoured vehicles were guarding major crossroads and patrolling the outskirts.
According to the U.N., the latest fighting in North Kivu, which began in April, has displaced more than 100,000 civilians and has once again raised tension between Congo and Rwanda. The rebel successes have embarrassed the army and government of Congo President Joseph Kabila. M23 political commissar Colonel Vianney Kazarama also denied the rebels received any support from Rwanda. “We have the support of the population … We took many weapons in Bunagana, Rutshuru, and Rumangabo. Are these places in Rwanda?” he said.
In a report last month, U.N. experts laid out evidence that high-ranking Rwandan military officials were backing the Congolese rebels. The United States, a key ally of Rwandan President Paul Kagame, and the European Union repeated on Tuesday this week a demand for Kigali to end this support. “We have asked Rwanda to halt and prevent the provision of such support from its territory, which threatens to undermine stability in the region,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marissa Rollen said in a statement.
The M23 insurgents, who include mutineers from the Congo army, take their name from a March 2009 peace deal that ended a previous Tutsi-led rebellion in North Kivu. Since March, hundreds of ex-rebels have defected from the army in support of a renegade general, Bosco Ntaganda, wanted by the International Criminal Court for suspected war crimes. Like the 2004-2009 rebellion, the current mutiny has its roots in ethnic and political wounds dating back to Rwanda’s 1994 genocide. Later invasions of Congo by Rwandan forces, and Kigali’s backing of Congolese rebels, fuelled two successive wars that killed several million people.