Rwanda’s army has said its troops briefly exchanged fire with soldiers from the Democratic Republic of the Congo at a border post, as tension continues to spike between the neighbours.
In a statement on Wednesday, Kigali said that 12 to 14 Congolese soldiers entered the neutral zone near the western district of Rusizi and opened fire at a Rwandan border post, in “an act of provocation”.
“Our security forces responded and [the Congolese] soldiers withdrew,” the statement said. “There were no casualties on the Rwanda side and the situation is calm.”
Meanwhile, Kinshasa has denied entering the neutral zone and said there were clashes between its military and a group of “bandits” near the border in Bukavu.
“In no case did the [army] cross the neutral zone, let alone open fire in the direction of Rwanda,” Theo Ngwabidje Kasi, governor of South Kivu province, said in a statement.
He said the accusations were “a lie” and described the incident as an “altercation” involving an exchange of fire between the Congolese security forces and “bandits,” who sustained one dead and one wounded.
“Rwanda’s tendency to want to portray itself as a victim and stoke tensions by making false accusations reveals without any doubt its intention to attack South Kivu province, as is currently the case in the war of aggression that it is carrying out in North Kivu,” he added.
The incident occurs against a backdrop of existing tensions between the DRC and its smaller neighbour over an offensive in the eastern Congolese province of North Kivu.
Last month, Rwanda accused a Congolese fighter jet of violating its airspace near Goma, a town on North Kivu’s border. The plane came under fire but was able to land safely in Goma.
Kinshasa described the attack on its aircraft as “a deliberate act of aggression that equals an act of war” with the goal of sabotaging regional peace efforts.
The DRC for months has accused Rwanda of supporting an armed rebel group called M23, that’s fighting in the DRC’s east.
The conflict in eastern DRC has gone on for decades, with more than 100 armed groups fighting for control of valuable mineral resources while others protect their communities, and has triggered an exodus of refugees.
Rwanda in turn accuses the DRC of supporting the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), another rebel group based in the DRC that has carried out raids into Rwanda in the past.
The FDLR has been accused of participation in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, in which ethnic Hutus killed more than 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus who tried to protect them.
Last year, United Nations experts said they had “substantial evidence” of Rwandan government forces crossing into the DRC to reinforce M23 rebels or to conduct operations against the FDLR.
The United States and the European Union have urged Rwanda to stop supporting the rebels.
The Rwandan government has denied supporting M23 and says the accusations are part of a “tired old blame game” undermining efforts for peace, “to which Rwanda is fully committed”.
Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame has said DRC authorities should solve their own problems. In January he said that the crisis in the DRC “is not Rwanda’s problem, and we are going to make sure that everybody realises it is not Rwanda’s problem”.