The Democratic Republic of Congo has criticised Rwanda’s alleged backing of rebels in its territory after a report submitted to the UN Security Council said there was evidence that Kigali’s armed forces are conducting operations to support rebels in the mineral-rich country.
The M23 group resurfaced late last year and is waging an offensive in the conflict-ridden eastern Congo, causing deaths and mass displacements. Some 170,000 have been displaced by the violence since November, the UN said in May. The attacks have angered locals, spurring deadly protests against UN peacekeepers operating in eastern Congo.
The unpublished report by a United Nations Group of Experts said there was “solid evidence” that members of Rwanda’s armed forces were backing M23 rebels. The findings, published by news agencies on Thursday, spurred a fresh round of accusations between the two countries.
“Members of the Rwandan Defence Forces did supply arms, ammunition and uniforms to the M23 and carried out joint attacks with the terrorist movement,” the Congolese government said in a statement on Friday.
It said the alleged evidence gathered by the UN included photos of Rwandan soldiers in an M23 camp, drone footage showing “hundreds of soldiers marching into Congolese territory, and photos and videos showing M23 fighters wearing uniforms and equipment of the Rwandan army”.
“Rwanda can no longer deny the accusations and must recognise its guilt and its responsibility for the instability in our country,” the Congolese government added on Friday.
The Financial Times has not seen the report.
“Rwanda cannot comment on an unpublished and unvalidated report,” the Rwandan government said in a statement, stressing that the UN Security Council had already received a report from a group of experts in June, “which contained none of these false allegations”.
“The fact is that there have been attacks and shelling from the DRC into Rwandan territory, resulting in fatalities and destruction of property,” the Rwandan government added. “The presence of the M23 and its origins are well known as a problem of the DRC, which they seek to make a burden on other countries.”
The US has voiced concern about the security situation at the border of the two countries. Next week, the US top diplomat, Antony Blinken, is due to visit Kinshasa and Kigali to “support regional African efforts to advance peace in eastern DRC.”
Rwanda and Uganda invaded Congo in the 1990s in wars that cost millions of lives producing an array of militias that remain active in a conflict that has resurfaced in recent months with renewed force.
Kigali has repeatedly denied supporting the M23. Instead, it has accused Kinshasa of backing the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, or FDLR, which in its ranks has Hutu accused of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. The M23 is dominated by Congolese Tutsis and claims to protect Tutsis against militant Hutu groups, like FDLR.
In an interview with the Financial Times last month, Congolese president, Félix Tshisekedi, accused Rwanda of profiting from his country’s mineral wealth. Its mining belt holds gold and some of the world’s largest deposits of coltan, which is used in electronic devices.
“The resurgence of the M23 comes as the security situation in eastern Congo has deteriorated over the past year, with other armed groups, and at times government soldiers, committing widespread violence, unlawful killings, and other grave abuses,” Human Rights Watch said in a report last month.