The Democratic Republic of the Congo’s military has accused Rwanda of “no less than an invasion” after M23 rebels captured a key border town, marking a dramatic escalation in tensions between the two Central African neighbours. Kinshasa’s military vowed that its forces would defend their homeland, hours after the Congolese town of Bunagana fell into the hands of the M23.
General Sylvain Ekenge, spokesman for the military governor of North Kivu province, said in a statement that “The Rwandan defence forces have this time decided to violate our territorial integrity by occupying the border town of Bunagana. This is no less than invasion of the Democratic Republic of Congo”
There was no immediate reaction from the government of Rwanda, but Kigali has strongly denied accusations over the years that it supports the M23 rebels fighting in DRC. Many of the M23 fighters are Congolese ethnic Tutsis, and Rwanda’s president is of Rwandan Tutsi descent.
Several thousand people rallied on Wednesday in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo city of Goma to protest against Rwanda after the government and military persisted with their accusations. Tension in the border city was high as riot police dispersed some demonstrators who chanted slogans against Rwanda and its president, Paul Kagame, such as "No more Rwandans, let's go and sort out Kagame.”
The latest fighting has led to more than 30,000 Congolese asylum seekers and 137 DRC soldiers crossing into neighbouring Uganda. The United Nations had previously said that 25,000 people fled the violence since Sunday.
The DRC and Rwanda have had tense relations since the mass arrival in eastern Congo of Rwandan Hutus accused of massacring Tutsis during the 1994 Rwandan Tutsi genocide.
Both countries have accused each other of conducting incursions into its territory and supporting armed groups there. Rwanda has claimed recently that two of its soldiers were being held captive after being abducted by rebels in the DRC, accusing the country's authorities of supporting them.
Relations had begun to thaw after the election of Congolese President, Felix Tshisekedi, in 2019, but the resurgence of M23 attacks has recently reignited bilateral tensions.
African Union chair, Macky Sall released a statement saying "I am gravely concerned by the rising tension between Rwanda and the DRC. I call on both countries to calm down and engage in dialogue for the peaceful resolution of the crisis with the support of regional mechanisms and the African Union."
The United Nations has urged all parties involved in growing tension between Kinshasa and Kigali to “immediately cease all forms of violence” in border regions.