Rwanda has warned that it will not tolerate elements from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) sneaking across its borders.
The warning followed a recent incident in which a Congolese soldier was shot dead and another one injured as tensions between the two neighbours escalated.
Rwanda Defence Forces (RDF) last weekend shot and killed a Congolese government soldier from the 69th Reconnaissance Battalion of FARDC inside Rwandan territory in what was described as “an act of aggression and provocation” by the Defence and Military Spokesperson, Brig-Gen Joseph Nzabamwita.
Initial reports had suggested that two Congolese soldiers who entered Rwanda on a reconnaissance mission had been killed but the Rwandan military confirmed that it was one soldier who was shot dead in the ensuing exchange of fire on the western frontier.
According to Brig-Gen Nzabamwita, local residents alerted RDF soldiers in the area that a contingent of Congolese soldiers had infiltrated the area. When the RDF approached the intruders, they responded with hostile fire, prompting the RDF soldiers to respond in “self-defence”.
The incident, which took place in Busasasama Sector, Rusura Cell in Rubavu District in Western Province, has been downplayed by both countries as a one-off incident that might not impact on their already volatile relations.
However, Brig-Gen Nzabamwita has strongly warned that Rwanda will not tolerate a violation of its borders.
“Whoever violates our borders and our sovereignty will be dealt with accordingly. We are ready for that,” said Brig-Gen Nzabamwita, laughing off a possibility of DR Congo attacking Rwanda. The senior military officer said any attack would be quashed by RDF.
The border skirmish came at a time when Rwanda and the Congo remain at loggerheads following claims that the former was backing M23 rebels who have reignited a strong rebellion against President Joseph Kabila’s government.
Rwanda and Uganda have both strongly dismissed the claims, which were attributed to a leaked report by United Nations Group of Experts, labelling them “politically motivated” and outlandish.
Foreign Affairs Minister Louise Mushikiwabo, who is also the Government Spokesperson, said in regard to the incident that Rwanda had been and remains “a patient and ready contributor” to the process of returning peace to eastern DRC without resorting to taking up arms.
She however noted that, as a country vouching for peace, the recent incident was approached with a lot of caution because Rwanda did not wish to engage in war with DRC, its vast neighbour to the west.
“The incident was, indeed, a cause of concern but not one that would require our forces to cross the border into DRC,” Ms Mushikiwabo said in an interview with Rwanda Today and KFM. “We discussed this issue with our Congolese counterparts and agreed that it is an isolated incident that should never happen again.”
The FARDC Spokesperson, Col Olivier Hamuli, told the Press in DRC that the incident was as a result of indiscipline that soldiers crossed into Rwanda for unknown reasons, mainly thought to be for economic reasons, although the slain soldier was found with identification linking him to the country’s intelligence agencies.
“Relations between DRC and Rwanda have not been affected by this isolated incident. We are in touch with our colleagues in Kigali,” said Col Hamuli at the scene of the shootout.
A resident who preferred anonymity told Rwanda Today that Congolese soldiers usually cross over at night to purchase commodities such as beer, soda and cigarettes inside Rwanda but this time they did so in big numbers and were intercepted.
The border with DRC in the south in Lake Kivu and in the North along Virunga National Park is thought to be porous and prone to illegal crossing by residents from both sides but the conflict in eastern Congo has seen patrols intensified.
Brig-Gen Nzabamwita said a Rwandan soldier was injured during the incident at midday last Saturday and the deceased was found with documents indicating that the infiltrating soldiers could have been on a reconnaissance mission.
“They were armed with assault rifles, more than 200 rounds of ammunition, binoculars, communication equipment, ropes, knives and other military equipment,” said an RDF statement, identifying the dead soldier as Corporal Mbanza Numba Bisogolo.
The body was handed over to Col Evariste Somo Kakula of the FARDC at the scene of the shootout. Brig-Gen Nzabamwita said the handover was witnessed by members of the Joint Verification Mechanism (JVM) of the International Conference for the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR).