Rwandan villages shelled as fresh rebel, army fighting in Congo spills over

Saturday October 26 2013
UN soldiers

Soldiers of the United Nations Mission in Democratic Republic of Congo (Monusco) sit on the top of tanks at a military post in Kibati, 10km from Goma. Photo/AFP

Hopes of peace returning to eastern Democratic Republic of Congo withered after renewed fighting between the M23 rebels and government forces broke out on Friday morning.

And, amid the hostilities in the rebel-held areas of Kibati and Kibumba, stray rockets landed in Rwanda, prompting Kigali to put its forces on the alert.

Rwanda’s defence and military spokesperson Brig-Gen Joseph Nzabamwita told The EastAfrican that several shells from DRC landed on Rwandan territory in the morning and two more in the afternoon, something Kigali saw as another act of provocation by DRC.

Rwandan officials said the FARDC attacks targeted innocent civilians in Rwanda as well as fleeing Congolese refugees.

“Congolese government forces FARDC have since morning fired three bombs and small arms fire at Rusura village, Rubavu District, Rwanda,” Brig-Gen Nzabamwita said.

“A T-55 bomb landed at 7:30 hours and two other bombs at 11:55 hours and 12:05 hours at Rusura village in Busasamana Sector, Rubavu District, which is located in Western Province.”


A 58-year-old Congolese women, Catherine Gahombo, was taken to Bugeshi Health Centre with a bullet lodged in her body after she was injured by small arms fire.

The military spokesperson said Rwanda would not tolerate renewed aggression on its territory although issues were being handled through diplomatic channels.

He said security on the border with Congo had been tightened.

“The aggression happened on their own people, who were injured,” Brig-Gen Nzabamwita said. “There are many Congolese refugees crossing into Rwanda.
“That is the situation we have at hand.”

Deployed heavily

In July, Rwanda deployed heavily on its western border following shelling from DRC on the town of Gisenyi that claimed one person’s life and injured three more. The country has since not moved its troops and artillery.

READ: Drums of war in DRC as Rwanda masses troops

Renewed fighting signalled the collapse of the Kampala talks, which were initiated by regional leaders in a bid to force a truce between the two belligerents.

However, a week ago the warring parties failed to reach an agreement with President Joseph Kabila declaring that his government would not give in to all the demands made by the rebels. He vowed that Kinshasa would protect the civilians of the eastern part of the country who have been largely affected.

The talks have since been suspended. Nonetheless, even after fighting broke out again on Friday, M23 said in a statement that it was still confident the talks would resume but vowed to protect its territory from imminent attack.

Both the rebels and the military claimed to have been attacked first. Both the M23 spokesperson, Vianney Kazarama, and FARDC spokesperson Olivier Hamuli claimed their positions were attacked first.

READ: Army, M23 rebels clash as Congo peace talks stall

The United Nations Mission in Democratic Republic of Congo (Monusco), corroborated the government’s statement. This has however served to raise the possibility of hostilities erupting again since the rebels claim the UN force sides with the government forces.

Prior to the resumption of talks in Kampala, fighting had resumed between the rebels and the forces and Monusco was caught in the crossfire.

It is feared that an all-out war is likely to resume with the rebels, who briefly held the Kivu provincial capital Goma in November last year, staying put. “No giving up,” the rebels then posted on their Twitter account.

Following the talks, a lull in the fighting had brought back hopes of the return to peace in the troubled region in the vast mineral-rich country.

Fears of fresh fighting

Observers see fighting breaking out again if the International Conference for the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) fails to persuade the two parties to return to the table.

The talks collapsed after the government and rebel delegations disagreed on what concessions and sort of amnesty the rebels would get. The M23 wanted the government to give close to 100 top rebel commanders amnesty and absorb them back in the military in senior positions.

The deal would have been similar to the one reached in March 2009 which saw the former members of the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), led by Gen Laurent Nkunda, absorbed in the national army.

However, the same officers led a mutiny in April 2012, which gave birth to the March 23 Movement (M23), after they claimed that the government had not honoured its side of the bargain in the deal.

In the prevailing circumstances, there are fears that the offensive UN Intervention Brigade may be called into action.

The 3,000-strong force, which has a mandate to engage and root out all negative groups operating in eastern DRC, has been quiet over the past few months of relative calm.

It is not clear what the next step will be for the force that is made up of soldiers from Tanzania, South Africa and Malawi that was to see action in July.

According to the Mayor of Rubavu, the Rwandan district bordering DRC, Sheikh Hassan Barame, hundreds of Congolese refugees began crossing into Rwanda as news of the collapsed talks filtered in.

READ: Kigali blames Congo over Rubavu shelling

“They fear that fighting will escalate,” said Mr Barame.” Rwanda has no option but to host them.”

More than 100,000 people have been displaced, some fleeing into Uganda and Rwanda, since fighting broke out in DRC in April last year.