Rwanda says it can no longer offer refuge to people fleeing violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), stoking already high tensions between the central African neighbours.
Persistent fighting in the east of the mineral-rich DRC pits federal troops against rebels from the M23 group, which has captured swaths of territory.
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The DRC, along with the United States and several European countries, has repeatedly accused Rwanda of backing the Tutsi-led rebels from M23, although Kigali denies the charge.
“We cannot keep hosting refugees” from DR Congo, President Paul Kagame told the upper house of parliament in the capital Kigali on Monday. “This is not Rwanda’s problem. And we are going to ensure that everybody realises that it is not Rwanda’s problem.
“I am refusing that Rwanda should carry this burden.”
Tensions have soared due to the fighting and thousands have fled the battles into neighbouring states, including Rwanda.
In November, the UN said about 72,000 Congolese refugees had crossed into Rwanda.
Kigali has repeatedly blamed Kinshasa for the crisis and accused the international community of turning a blind eye to the DRC’s alleged support for the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a mainly Rwandan Hutu rebel movement implicated in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.
Kigali sees the FDLR as a threat that justifies incursions into the DRC.
Rwanda has also accused the DRC – where presidential elections are due this December – of using the conflict for political purposes as well as of “fabricating” a November massacre of at least 131 civilians. A UN probe blamed the deaths on M23 rebels.
A tentative ceasefire and the deployment of Kenyan forces through the East African Community (EAC) have so far failed to halt the bloodshed.