Rwanda on Saturday said two of its soldiers were being held captive by rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Rwandan government authorities of backing the group responsible.
It comes after DRC summoned Rwanda’s ambassador and suspended flights from the country after accusing its neighbour of supporting the M23 rebel group active in its eastern region.
Rwanda Defence Force (RDF) said two of its troops were kidnapped on patrol and were being held in eastern DRC by rebels from the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) group.
“We call upon authorities of the Democratic Republic of Congo that work closely with these genocidal armed groups to secure the release of the RDF soldiers,” the RDF said in a statement.
The two soldiers were named by the RDF as Corporal Nkundabagenzi Elysee and Private Ntwari Gad.
The abduction followed an attack earlier this week along the border by Congolese forces and FDLR rebels, the RDF said.
Rwanda had already called for an investigation after accusing Congolese armed forces of firing rockets into its territory.
Fighting between Congolese forces and M23 erupted on several fronts this week in North Kivu, a conflict-torn eastern province of DRC, which borders Rwanda.
The United Nations said on Friday the clashes had displaced 72,000 people, warning that those on the run faced violence and the looting of their homes.
DRC said M23 – a primarily Congolese Tutsi group, and just one of more than 120 armed groups that roam eastern DRC – had received support from Rwanda.
Kigali has denied involvement.
Kinshasa said late on Friday it would take “conservative measures” against Rwanda, which included summoning the ambassador and blocking flights from the national carrier.
The airline, RwandAir, responded on Saturday by cancelling “with immediate effect” all flights to Kinshasa, Lubumbashi and Goma.
DRC and Rwanda have had a strained relationship since the mass arrival in the republic of Rwandan Hutus accused of slaughtering Tutsis during the 1994 Rwanda genocide.
Kinshasa has regularly accused Rwanda of carrying out incursions into its territory and of backing armed groups there.
Relations had begun to thaw after DRC President Felix Tshisekedi took office in 2019, but the recent resurgence of M23 violence has reignited tensions.