Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) President Felix Tshisekedi has urged visiting French President Emmanuel Macron to pursue international sanctions against Rwanda for its alleged military support to M23 rebels.
Macron said he was waiting for the end of several ongoing peace negotiation efforts before considering such a step. But he promised that France would be “faithful to its role as an unwavering ally of [DRC] to defend its integrity and sovereignty.”
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The eastern DRC has been mired in conflict for decades, with armed groups vying for control of the region’s vast mineral resources. Most recently, the DRC has accused Rwanda of supporting M23 rebels, who have seized control of large swaths of the country’s east.
Rwanda has repeatedly denied the allegation.
Peace talks have taken place in Nairobi, Kenya and Angola’s capital, Luanda. Regional leaders have called for a ceasefire in eastern DRC and for the M23 rebels to withdraw from the territory they are holding.
Macron said that all sides had “given clear support” to a ceasefire next Tuesday, as envisaged in the timeline mediated by Angola.
The French president said that the DRC “must not be a spoils of war.”
“This is the very meaning of my presence today, to tell everyone that there cannot be a double standard between the tragedy being played out in Ukraine on European territory and that being played out on African soil,” Macron said.
Tshisekedi pressed his French counterpart for sanctions against Rwanda, saying he remained “doubtful about the good faith of those who attacked us”.
“There was no reason to justify this aggression, except for economic reasons, which were specific to Rwanda, the instigator of this aggression,” Tshisekedi said, accusing Rwanda of “systematic plundering”.
Earlier on Saturday, Brussels said it was setting up a “humanitarian air bridge” to deliver aid to eastern DRC.
The air bridge will link with Goma, the capital of DRC’s eastern North Kivu province, where fighting with the rebel group M23 has displaced more than 600,000 people.
The operation will “deliver humanitarian support in the form of medical and nutritional supplies along with a range of other emergency items”, a European Commission statement said.
The EU said it was also releasing some 47 million euros ($50m) to be channelled through humanitarian partners for immediate needs such as nutrition, healthcare, shelter and water.
“The EU stands ready to mobilise all the necessary means to support humanitarian workers, including logistics and air, to meet the needs of the population in Democratic Republic of Congo,” said the EU’s commissioner for crisis management Janez Lenarcic.
Before Macron’s arrival late on Friday, nearly two dozen citizen groups had called for protests.
Emmanuel Mabunguta, a member of the Justice in Action Movement, accused Macron of supporting Rwandan President Paul Kagame and said the French president was not welcome in DRC.
“The silence of the French president in relation to the demands of the Congolese people for sanctions against Rwanda speaks volumes about what he really wants,” Mabunguta said. “Macron must openly condemn Rwanda for its support of the M23.”
The DRC was Macron’s last stop on his trip to Africa, which also included visits to Gabon, Angola and Republic of Congo. On Friday in Brazzaville, Macron pledged France would help in the fight against climate change and pledged support for forest conservation initiatives.