Hundreds have staged an anti-Rwanda protest in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) capital Kinshasa, over Kigali’s alleged support to the M23, a notorious rebel group, as tensions between the two neighbours grow.
During Monday’s demonstration, protesters also called for the expulsion of the Rwandan ambassador and brandished nationalistic slogans on banners.
“Congo is our country … not a single centimetre will go to Rwanda,” read one.
Relations have been strained since the mass arrival in the eastern DRC of Rwandan Hutus accused of slaughtering Tutsis during the 1994 Rwanda genocide.
But relations began to thaw after DRC President Felix Tshisekedi took office in 2019, but the recent resurgence of M23 violence has reignited tensions, exacerbated by the detention of two Rwandan soldiers in Congo.
The demonstrators held candles and shouted slogans against Rwandan President Paul Kagame. “We support the FARDC (the Congolese army), our youths are ready to do military service to defend the country,” Pasi Nkoy from the Union for Democracy and Social Progress party said.
Kinshasa meanwhile repeated allegations that Kigali was backing the M23 – a primarily Congolese Tutsi group – after clashes between its fighters and the Congolese army broke out last week in the North Kivu province, which borders Rwanda.
However, government spokesperson Patrick Muyaya said on Monday that Kinshasa was not closing the door to negotiations.
On Saturday, RwandAir announced it was cancelling flights to the DRC, after Congolese authorities suspended the carrier and summoned Kigali’s ambassador.
The Rwanda Defence Force later said two soldiers had been kidnapped on patrol and were being held by the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, another rebel group active in eastern DRC.
The United Nations said on Friday the latest clashes had displaced 72,000 people and warned that those on the run faced constant violence and the looting of their homes.
In the latest rebel attack, 16 people were killed, seven wounded and vehicles were torched during a night raid in the volatile east, the Red Cross and locals said Monday.
The raid took place on Sunday evening in Bulongo in North Kivu province, according to village youth president Andika Miheko, who blamed the notorious Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) group.
“They torched five vehicles and the people inside were burned to a crisp,” he said, adding that the violence lasted until the early hours of Monday morning.
Sahani Kambale, the head of the Bulongo Red Cross branch, said the humanitarian group discovered 16 bodies after the attack. Seven people were also wounded.
One of those killed was a Red Cross worker, who was shot as he was trying to flee, according to the organisation’s local secretary, Albert Ndungo.
The latest attack is the fourth in Bulongo blamed on the ADF since 2020.
Described by the ISIL (ISIS) group as its local affiliate, the ADF has been accused of killing thousands of civilians in DRC’s troubled east. ADF rebels also killed 27 civilians in an attack elsewhere in North Kivu on Saturday, according to the army and others.
Since May last year, Congolese security forces have run the administrations of North Kivu and neighbouring Ituri province in a bid to crush the myriad rebel groups active there.