Rebels and government soldiers have accused each other of fuelling the current violence of eastern DR Congo, that is threatening to spill into the city of Goma, the largest city in North Kivu province.
Violent clashes between the M23 rebels and the armed forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC), supported by soldiers from the United Nations mission, have led to civilians fleeing the territories of Jomba and Kibumba, just 20 km from the city of Goma.
The M23 rebels and the Congolese army have traded accusations on who attacked first, with each blaming the other party.
On Wednesday evening, the Congolese army claimed to have seized weapons and other military items abandoned by armed groups. The weapons have been taken for verification.
General Sylvain Ekenge, spokesman for the military governor of North Kivu, said that the military items that were recovered from the abandoned rebel areas “are not used by the FARDC or by the M23 terrorists”.
This led Governor Constant Ndima, head of operations in North Kivu, to “refer the matter to the enlarged joint verification mechanism of the International Conference for the Great Lakes Region for investigations into the origin of these incidents”.
On Monday, the Rwandan Defense Forces had referred to the same joint verification mechanism for investigations on “cross-border shelling on Rwandan territory by DRC armed forces”, according to a Rwanda Defense Force statement.
Colonel Ronald Rwivanga, spokesman for the Rwandan army, said that the “incident” led to the injury of civilians and other damage.
The Rwandan army has now reinforced its security along the border with DRC’s Nyiragongo territory, even as Congolese troops supported by the UN mission say they have pushed the rebels away from Goma.
The situation in the Great Lakes region is attracting international attention.
The UN Security Council “strongly condemns the attack against Monusco and the FARDC and calls on all armed groups to participate unconditionally in the Nairobi political process.”
The UN Security Council members expressed “concern about the current humanitarian situation in eastern DRC, marked by a significant increase in the number of people in need of protection and humanitarian assistance.”
The Executive Council of the African Union, which met on Wednesday on the occasion of African Day, condemned the resurgence of the M23.
During the plenary, Christophe Lutundula, DR Congo’s Foreign Affairs minister, publicly accused Rwanda of supporting the M23.
Major Willy Ngoma, spokesperson for M23, denied any support from Rwanda.
Kigali also later denied any involvement with the rebels.
In Kinshasa, “a crisis meeting” was held on Wednesday with Prime Minister Jean-Michel Sama Lukonde and Célestin Mbala, the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
On Friday, some Congolese protesters, who tried to march in front of the Rwandan embassy in the DRC following reports that Rwanda was helping the M23, were dispersed by police in Kinshasa.
Due to the escalating conflict in North Kivu, President Félix Tshisekedi returned to Kinshasa on Thursday night in order to follow closely the security situation. He returned from a “private trip” to Nairobi where he had gone to after his three-day state visit to Burundi.
His office says he will also not travel to Equatorial Guinea for the African Union summit as earlier planned.