Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo agree that M23 and other armed militia are a major security threat and are hurting bilateral ties. However, the two countries are prescribing different solutions to the problem.
This week in New York, presidents Felix Tshisekedi of DR Congo and Rwanda’s Paul Kagame met under mediation of French President Emmanuel Macron. They agreed to resume talks on how to tackle the M23 threat.
“The two presidents agreed to act together to obtain, as soon as possible, the withdrawal of the M23 from all occupied regions and the return of displaced people to their homes, with the support of the United Nations and their partners in the African Union, the East African Community and the Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR),” the DR Congo presidency said in a statement.
The dispatch said President Kagame and President Tshisekedi “have also agreed to intensify their co-operation in the long term to fight against impunity and put an end to the action of armed groups in the Great Lakes region, including the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR). These efforts will take place within the framework of existing regional peace initiatives, including the Nairobi process.”
Kigali did not release the “joint statement” but indicates that the leaders had discussed solutions to the conflict in the DR Congo’s eastern region.
The New York meeting, however, was preceded by harsh words for Rwanda by President Tshisekedi in a speech on Tuesday at the UN General Assembly.
He said that Rwanda was undermining peace efforts in the DRC.
“Despite my goodwill for the search of peace, some neighbours have found no better way to thank us than to aggress and support armed groups that are ravaging eastern Congo,” he said.
President Tshisekedi added: “In defiance of international law, [Rwanda] has once again not only interfered in the DR Congo since March by direct incursions of its armed forces, but also occupies localities in North Kivu province by an armed terrorist group, the M23, to which it provides massive support in terms of equipment and troops.”
President Kagame hit back a day later, noting that the insecurity situation in eastern DRC had exposed Rwanda to “cross border attacks that are entirely preventable”.
“The blame game does not solve the problems,” he said in his speech to the UN General Assembly.
“There is an urgent need to find the political will to finally address the root cause of instability in eastern DR Congo. These challenges are not insurmountable and solutions can be found. This would ultimately be much less costly in terms of both money and human lives,” President Kagame added.
Tensions have persisted, with officials from both governments telling The EastAfrican that no progress has been registered since the height of hostilities earlier this year.
“There is no improvement in relations at all. DR Congo has insisted on Rwanda as its scapegoat for the insecurity in the east, even when they have so many rebel groups operating there,” a Rwandan official said on condition of anonymity.
Kinshasa sees Rwanda as a state aggressor, particularly with the capture of Bunagana town by the M23 rebels. Rwanda sees the DRC as a supporter of former genocide masterminds FDLR group, which is hiding in DR Congo.
“Bunagana has to be free for RwandAir to be allowed to resume flights to DR Congo. This is DR Congo saying, ‘M23 is Rwanda’,” a DRC official told The EastAfrican.
Since June, M23 rebels have controlled Bunagana town in the North Kivu province that borders Uganda.
The advance of M23 culminated in the suspension of RwandAir flights to the DRC, as well as the shelling of rockets into Rwandan territory by the Congolese army.
This week, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told France 24, that the only way to achieve peace is through “serious” discussions between the DR Congo, Uganda and Rwanda.
“We need to have a joint perspective to avoid this situation that always takes us backwards when we make progress.
“These countries need to understand each other. These countries must co-operate effectively for the security of the Congo and also to guarantee security in Rwanda and Uganda.”
The DRC and Rwanda had opened dialogue under a Joint Commission. But the two countries have only had one meeting, in late July. Previously, the Joint Commission had not met for 10 years.
After the resurgence of the M23 rebels, this year the DRC accused Rwanda of supporting the Congolese rebels militarily and in the supply of arms.