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Ahead of Rwanda visit, Blinken says US ‘concerned’ by reports of Rwandan support for DRC rebels

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On the eve of his visit to Rwanda on Wednesday, Foreign Minister Antony Blinken said his country is “concerned” by “credible” reports that Rwanda is supporting rebels in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

The resurgence of the M23 group in the troubled eastern Congo has exacerbated tensions between neighbors, with Kinshasa accusing Kigali of supporting the rebels.

Blinken spoke in the Congolese capital Kinshasa, where he arrived Tuesday for the second leg of a three-country tour of Africa and met President Felix Tshisekedi.

Rwanda has denied the allegations.

“We are deeply concerned about credible reports that Rwanda has supported the M23,” the top US diplomat said at a news conference in Kinshasa. “All countries must respect the territorial integrity of their neighbours. Any entry of foreign troops into the DRC must be transparent and authorized by the DRC.”

Blinken added that he was “not batting an eyelid” and would discuss the matter with Rwandan President Paul Kagame.

He said his trip to the region was to secure US support for mediation efforts led by Angola and Kenya “to prevent further violence, to end conflict (and) to preserve the DRC’s territorial integrity”.

He spoke after a visit to South Africa on Monday, where he said the United States was looking for a “real partnership” with Africa.

tense relationships

The DRC seeks international support as it grapples with Rwanda over the M23, a mostly Congolese Tutsi group that is one of several operating in the troubled east.

After years of largely dormant, the rebels resumed fighting at the end of last year. They captured the strategic town of Bunagana on the Ugandan border in June and forced thousands of people to flee their homes.

In a 131-page report to the UN Security Council that AFP saw last week, experts said Rwandan forces have intervened militarily in the DRC since at least November.

Rwanda also “provided troop reinforcements” for specific M23 operations, the expert report said, “particularly when these were aimed at capturing strategic cities and territories”.

Congolese Foreign Minister Christophe Lutundula on Tuesday urged the United Nations to make the report public.

“We demand that the Security Council publish (this) report in its entirety,” he said.

Kinshasa and Kigali have had tense relations since the massive influx of Rwandan Hutus accused of massacring Tutsis during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

Relations began to thaw after Tshisekedi took office in 2019, but the resurgence of the M23 has revived tensions.

The group, also known as the “March 23 Movement”, first jumped to prominence in 2012 when it briefly captured the city of Goma before a joint Congolese-UN offensive ousted it.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta has led an initiative to disarm the active rebel groups, while Angolan counterpart Joao Lourenco has worked to ease tensions between Kinshasa and Kigali.

Rwanda and M23

Blinken arrived in Kinshasa from South Africa, where he said the United States was seeking a “true partnership” with Africa and not competing with other powers for influence on the continent.

Tshisekedi would “raise the questions of strategic partnership” between the DRC and the United States during his meeting with Blinken at the presidential palace, his office said in a statement Monday.

On the eve of Blinken’s flight through the DRC and Rwanda, Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged him to condemn the M23 attacks and press Rwanda for its rights, including a “ruthless” crackdown on dissent.

“As in 2012, the M23 commit war crimes against civilians,” said an HRW statement.

“Witnesses described summary killings of at least 29 people, including children, in June and July…The US should relay reliable reports to Rwanda that it is once again supporting the violent conduct of the M23 in eastern Congo.”

The M23 is just one of dozens of armed groups marching through eastern DRC, many of which are a legacy of two regional wars that broke out at the end of the last century.

One of the bloodiest militias is the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) – an organization the Islamic State group describes as its “Central African province.”

The United States Department of State placed the ADF on its list of IS-affiliated “terrorist” organizations in March 2021.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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