Kampala — The United States has called on Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to avoid an escalation in violence that could lead to war in the already conflict-riddled eastern DRC. DRC accuses Rwanda of supporting M23 rebels who are active in eastern part of the country.
The M23 is made up of former Congolese soldiers who broke ranks from the DRC army last year. The rebels are mostly from the Tutsi ethnic group and share historical relations with the Tutsi in Rwanda.
The United Nations has also accused Rwanda of providing support to M23 rebels, allegations which Rwanda denies, saying it has security interests in eastern Congo as the region has for years been used by rebels hostile to Kigali. Violence in the eastern DRC has escalated in the past week, with media reports saying as many as seven people were killed. On Tuesday, AFP quoted an eyewitness, saying he had counted 82 bodies.
The US government has meanwhile called on Rwanda and the DRC to refrain from acts that could cause more harm to the civilian population.
"We urgently call on the DRC and Rwandan governments to exercise restraint to prevent military escalation of the conflict or any action that puts civilians at risk", the US state department said in a statement on Sunday.
The US government also called on Rwanda to immediately stop any support it is providing to M23 rebels.
"We reiterate our call for Rwanda to cease any and all support to the M23 and to respect DRC's territorial integrity, consistent with UN Security Council resolutions and its commitments under the peace, security, and cooperation framework", the statement said.
"We also call on the DRC to take all prudent steps to protect civilians and to take precautions that FARDC [DRC army] shells do not inadvertently land in Rwandan territory", the statement adds.
Fresh fighting broke out in eastern DRC on Wednesday and according to media reports, a UN force created in March comprising of soldiers from Malawi, South Africa and Tanzania for the first time fought alongside the Congolese national army.
"We are using artillery, indirect fire with mortars and our aviation, and at the moment we have troops in the front line alongside [the government forces]", the UN force commander in Congo, Gen. Dos Santos Cruz, said on Saturday.
Three UN troops are reported to have been wounded in the fighting, however, the UN has yet to confirm this.
Inadequate government control from Kinshasa has allowed several militia groups to mushroom in the Eastern DRC region, a large swathe of land rich in mineral resources.