Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame said he did not mind his country being excluded from a regional military force battling rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo, removing a potential stumbling block to the initiative.
The seven countries of the East African Community (EAC) agreed in April to set up a joint force to try to end decades of bloodshed in eastern parts of Congo. Congo welcomed the plan, but said it would not accept the involvement of Rwanda, which it accuses of backing rebels – an accusation that Rwanda denies.
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“I have no problem with that. We are not begging anyone that we participate in the force,” Kagame told Rwanda’s state broadcaster on Monday.
“If anybody’s coming from anywhere, excluding Rwanda, but will provide the solution that we’re all looking for, why would I have a problem?” Kagame asked in the wide-ranging interview.
Congo has accused Rwanda of supporting the M23 rebel group, which has been waging its most sustained offensive in Congo’s eastern borderlands since capturing vast swathes of territory in 2012-2013.
Rwanda denies supporting the rebels and in turn accuses Congo’s army of firing into Rwandan territory and of fighting alongside the Forces Democratiques de Liberation du Rwanda (FDLR), an armed group run by ethnic Hutus who fled Rwanda after taking part in the 1994 genocide.
The EAC has called on local armed groups to join a political process to resolve their grievances or “be handled militarily”, the office of Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta, who is the chairman of the EAC, said in April.
Recent attempts to stop the violence militarily have proven unsuccessful, and in some cases backfired, security analysts and human rights groups say.
Despite billions of dollars spent on one of the United Nations’ largest peacekeeping forces, more than 120 rebel groups continue to operate across large swathes of east Congo almost two decades after the official end of the central African country’s civil wars.