DR Congo expels Rwandan ambassador as M23 rebels gain ground

DR Congo expels Rwandan ambassador as M23 rebels gain ground


Authorities in Kinshasa said Saturday they would expel the Rwandan ambassador as M23 rebels, who they accuse Kigali of backing them, made fresh gains in the east of the troubled country.

Government spokesman Patrick Muyaya’s announcement came after a government meeting to assess the security situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The recent advance of rebel fighters prompted the UN peacekeeping mission there to raise its “troop alert level” and increase support for the army.

Muyaya said that in recent days “a massive arrival of elements of the Rwandan element in support of the M232 terrorists” against the DRC troops had been observed.

“This criminal and terrorist adventure” has forced thousands of people to flee, he added.

Given Rwanda’s continued support for the rebels, the Defense Council, chaired by President Felix Tshisekedi, had decided to ask the government to give Rwandan Ambassador Vincent Karega 48 hours to leave the country.

– rebels advance –

M23 rebel fighters have taken control of Kiwanju and the Rutshuru center along the strategic RN2 highway in eastern North Kivu province, local officials and witnesses told AFP earlier Saturday by phone.

Rebels had also been sighted in Rugari, just 30 kilometers (20 miles) down the RN2 from the provincial capital of Goma, which links it to the north and Uganda.

Four peacekeepers were wounded by mortar fire and gunfire at Kiwanja, the mission said.

“Kiwanja and the Rutshuru center are in the hands of M23,” said civil society representative Jacques Niyonzima.

“The rebels have held two meetings and urged locals to go about their jobs and the displaced to return to their villages, saying safety is now guaranteed,” he said.

In Kiwanja, “We have recorded three deaths in our area, a man, a woman and their child, killed by shells that landed on houses,” said resident Eric Muhindo.

An official at Rutshuru General Hospital added: “There were several wounded in Kiwanja after a small resistance.”

“It has calmed down. People are moving and businesses are opening,” the official said, asking not to be named.

– Hostile actions –

The UN mission MONUSCO condemned “the hostile acts of the rebel group M23” and called for an immediate end to the fighting.

The mission said on Twitter it was providing “air support, intelligence and equipment,” as well as medical assistance.

Peacekeepers said they were mobilized “in support” of the DRC army after residents reported at least 10 dead and dozens more wounded near RN2 since Sunday.

MONUSCO said it had set up an “operations coordination center” with the army and was conducting reconnaissance and surveillance flights, but gave no further details on the alert level.

M23, a predominantly Congolese Tutsi group, resumed fighting in late 2021 after lying dormant for years, accusing the government of failing to honor an agreement to demobilize its fighters.

It has since seized much of North Kivu territory, including the key town of Bunagana on the Uganda border in June.

The front line between Congolese troops and M23 rebels had remained calm for the past few weeks, until clashes erupted again last week.

Last Sunday, M23 fighters captured the village of Ntamugenga in the Rutshuru area. It is four kilometers from the RN2, where Thursday’s clashes spread.

– Tension with Rwanda –

The UN Humanitarian Affairs Office in the DRC said around 34,500 people fled the Rutshuru region this week.

The group’s resurgence has destabilized regional ties in central Africa, with the DRC accusing its smaller neighbor Rwanda of backing the militia.

Rwanda denies the allegations and counters that the DRC is collaborating with a notorious Hutu rebel movement involved in the 1994 genocide against the Tutsis, the Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), which Kinshasa also denies.

A report by independent UN experts provided to AFP in August revealed that Kigali had directly supported the M23.

And this week, a US official at the United Nations spoke about the Rwandan Defense Forces’ support of the M23.

M23 first came to prominence in 2012 when it briefly captured Goma before being driven off by a joint Congolese and UN offensive.

The militia is one of numerous armed groups operating in eastern DRC, many of them the legacy of two regional wars that broke out at the end of the last century.

Relations between Kigali and Kinshasa seemed to have improved when Tshisekedi took over as President of DR Congo in 2019 and held several meetings with Rwandan President Paul Kagame.

But the revival of M23 put an end to this approach.

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