Rwanda, DRC warned over border deployment

Wednesday June 25 2014

Officers from the UN, Rwandan and Congolese

Officers from the UN, Rwandan and Congolese Joint Verification Mission tour a part of the Rwandan border on June 12, 2014 in Kanyesheza, where fighting is said to have taken place. AFP 

By Special Correspondent

Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo have been cautioned against military deployment along their respective borders to avoid skirmishes between the armies of the two countries.

This follows assessment by a group of experts from the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGRL) under the Extended Joint Verification Mechanism (EJVM), which was investigating border clashes between the two countries a fortnight ago that left five Congolese soldiers dead.

The EJVM was set up by ICGLR member states in September 2012 at the height of the M23 conflict in eastern DR Congo to monitor the borders of the two countries and investigate any territorial violations by the two sides.

It has the mandate to rebuild confidence between DR Congo and Rwanda by observing and reporting on any activities, conflict or flow of arms and related material across borders of eastern DRC.

In its report on the findings from violent altercation on the border between the two neighbours, the experts fault both armies.

In the 14-page report seen by The EastAfrican, the EJVM found that there were violations of territory from both sides but notes that there was "provocation by Rwanda Defence Forces on the Congolese national army positions at Kanyesheja."

The EJVM findings contradict Rwanda's position, given by the Minister of Foreign Affairs Louise Mushikiwabo last week, that RDF was provoked and responded by returning fire.

While the cause of the fighting is alleged to be theft of cows by FARDC from the Rwandan territory, the EJVM says that the cows in question were not found during the investigations. The report also raises fresh questions on the manner in which the five soldiers from DR Congo were killed.

Sections within the Congolese army claim four of the dead soldiers could have been Congolese prisoners of war, who were killed and dumped in the area of fighting while Rwanda says the four were killed in the second confrontation which saw FARDC men attack RDF positions.

EJVM further says the causes of fighting were partly the "alleged capture of an FARDC soldier by RDF" and the "location of Kanyesheja II hill which is contested by the two countries given its positioning along the presumed borderline."

The 'restricted' report signed by The ‘restricted’ report signed by 9 of 10 members of the EJVM, Rwanda has not signed the report, also observes that there is general lack of trust between FARDC and RDF field commanders. The contested borderline demarcation between the two countries was also cited as a major cause conflict.

Worryingly close

Members of the EJVM observed that the deployment of the forces of the two countries is worryingly "close to each other with no proper border demarcations to identify territorial sovereignty."

They further state that there were no visible traces of empty cartridges at neither the alleged ambush site nor at the scene of the morning (first) incidence, but there was glaring evidence of battle (empty cartridges and fox holes) on both hills of Kanyesheja which are contested by the two countries.

According to the investigation team, at the time of verification, RDF forces were physically occupying Kanyesheja II hill, which according to Google Maps, is inside DR Congo's territory. The hill had since been abandoned by FARDC.

The site of the cattle kraal where cows were alleged to have been stolen is in Rwanda territory but no stolen cattle were seen or found from DRC side.

It is not clear however how the said soldiers died. Kinshasa claims the soldiers had most probably been in custody of the Rwandans. By the time the EJVM left the scene, Rwanda Red Cross was present to recover the five bodies to hand them over to DR Congo Red Cross.

The report also contains gory pictures of the slain soldiers, which bear bullet wounds and blunt cuts. Part of the recommendations is that a detailed forensic autopsy be conducted on all the corpses to determine the time, cause and type of death.

DR Congo officials claim the said soldiers were not killed during the confrontation. The recommendation by EJVM to carry out a detailed autopsy on the bodies brings a new twist to the incident which has seen both Rwanda and DR Congo trade accusations of provocation.

Resolve border conflict

Members of the EJVM called on the International Conference for the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) to convene an urgent meeting to resolve border issues between the two countries but in the meantime called on RDF and FARDC to avoid deploying forces on the contentious hill.

"The continued deployment of both forces close to each other along the porous border will still create tension, if urgent measures are not undertaken by both states and regional stakeholders...suspicions and mistrust among the two forces contributed to the tension that resulted in the recent clash and a probability of future fighting will prevail if urgent measures are not undertaken."

"Until the dispute is resolved amicably, both countries should take additional measures to effectively ensure that the two forces deployments are at a reasonable distance away from the borders," the report states.