Rebels gave the government 24 hours to open talks and pull back its forces or risk an escalation of fighting in the east
Rwanda has accused UN-backed Congolese forces of shelling its territory during a battle with rebels near the border, but said it had no plans to respond militarily to what it called Kinshasa’s “provocation”.
Tension between the central African neighbours is reaching breaking point over an uprising in Congo’s eastern hills that Kinshasa’s government says is orchestrated by Rwanda with designs on the region’s mineral riches.
“We have information that Rwanda has been firing into their own territory to justify a larger intervention“
– Lambert Mende,
“Rwanda does not intend to respond to provocation coming from the DRC,” Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo told the Reuters news agency on Monday.
“Issues in [eastern Democratic Republic of Congo] are too serious to be subjected to game playing.”
A Rwandan army spokesperson earlier said Congo’s military had fired artillery, anti-aircraft and tank rounds into the Rwandan border town of Gisenyi, injuring three people, as fighting raged between Congo’s army and advancing M23 rebels.
Guests at a Rwandan hotel near Congo’s border ran for cover on Monday afternoon as heavy weapons fire hit nearby, a Reuters witness said.
Sustained gunfire could also be heard across the border from the direction of the airport in Goma, the capital of Congo’s North Kivu province where Congolese troops, some manning tanks, took up positions in the city centre at nightfall.
The M23 halted their advance about 5km from Goma on Sunday.
Congo’s government, which has repeatedly accused Rwanda of backing the eight-month M23 rebellion as a means of controlling mineral riches in North Kivu, said on Monday Kigali may have staged the shelling on its own territory.
“We have information that Rwanda has been firing into their own territory to justify a larger intervention,” Congo
government spokesperson Lambert Mende said, without outright denying reports of Congolese shelling.
Call for calm
A local UN official said Congo’s presidential guard unit had fired the heavy weapons into Rwandan territory, though a
spokesperson for the United Nations in New York said the reports could not be immediately confirmed.
|M23 rebels halted their advance about 5km from the provincial capital, Goma, on Sunday|
M23 say they are fighting because Kinshasa broke the terms of a 2009 peace agreement that integrated them into the army as a solution to an earlier rebellion.
UN experts back the government contention that Rwanda, which has intervened in Congo repeatedly over the past 18 years, is behind the M23 revolt. Rwanda denies involvement.
Yoweri Museveni, president of Uganda, also accused by UN experts of arming M23, told UN chief Ban Ki-moon he had spoken to the rebels, in his capacity as head of a regional body, and called for calm, a UN peacekeeping spokesperson said on Monday.
Uganda denies supporting the rebels.
In a report to the UN Security Council released on Monday, Ban said he was disturbed by continued external support for M23 and called on “all those responsible to immediately and permanently end this destabilising assistance”.
“The sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is inviolable and must be fully respected by all neighbouring countries,” Ban said.
“Constructive dialogue and engagement between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and its neighbours, especially Rwanda, is vital.”
Analysts say Rwanda and Uganda have maintained extensive commercial and military networks in Congo’s east since the two countries sent troops into Congo twice in the 1990s and 2000s.