Rwanda Ensures Defence Measures Amid 'Serious Threat' From DR Congo

Rwandan troops
19 February 2024

The Rwandan government says it is "deeply concerned" by DR Congo's abandonment of the Luanda and Nairobi peace process and the international community's indifference to the country's "dramatic military build-up" near Rwanda's border.

According to a Sunday, February 18, statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, DR Congo has launched massive combat operations in North Kivu province, in contravention of the regional mechanisms, and "clearly aims to expel M23 and Congolese Tutsi civilians into neighbouring countries," working in concert with the FDLR, a Rwandan ethnic militia directly linked to the genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda in 1994.

ALSO READ: FDLR integration into DR Congo army must be addressed - Kagame

The statement follows a mini-summit held in Ethiopia, on the side-lines of the African Union Summit, Rwanda's President Paul Kagame urged regional leaders, including Tshisekedi, to address the root causes of the conflict in eastern DR Congo, especially the integration the FDLR into the Congolese armed forces.

Rwanda has, for years, called on the Congolese government to end the collaboration with the FDLR, which has launched attacks on Rwandan territory over the past two decades.

Since early February, the M23 rebels have advanced towards Goma, the capital of North Kivu, raising fears that they might take control of the city of an estimated two million people.

ALSO READ: M23 rebels threaten to march on key town in eastern DR Congo

The M23 rebels' advances are result of DR Congo's expulsion of the East African Community Regional Force in December 2023, which had been mandated to oversee ceasefire and withdrawal efforts, the Ministry said.

While protecting the rights and lives of Congolese Tutsi is the responsibility of DR Congo, the Ministry said, the consistent failure to do so has exposed the entire Great Lakes Region to thirty years of conflict and instability with hundreds of thousands of Congolese Tutsi having lived as refugees in East Africa for decades, essentially forgotten.

Rwanda hosts more than 100,000 Congolese refugees, including more than 13,000 who fled the conflict in recent months.

"Hate speech and crude tribalism have become the currency of Congolese politics under the administration of President Félix Tshisekedi, and ethnic discrimination and targeted arrests and killings have become routine. FDLR is fully integrated into the Congolese Armed Forces (FARDC), as repeatedly documented by the UN Group of Experts," reads the statement.

"Taken together, these facts represent a serious threat to Rwanda's national security. Because of that growing risk, Rwanda's position is that the M23 issue must be resolved politically amongst Congolese. It will not be accepted for the problem to be externalized into Rwanda, by force, once again," the Ministry said.

The Congolese political and military leadership, including President Tshisekedi, has also repeatedly declared their intention to invade Rwanda and change the country's elected government by force.

"Rwanda takes them at their word, and has adjusted our posture accordingly," the statement said. "This includes measures to ensure complete air defence of Rwandan territory, and to degrade offensive air capabilities, following the introduction of advanced Chinese CH-4 attack drones by DRC in 2023, and repeated violations of Rwandan air space by Congolese fighter jets."

US change of policy?

The State Department of the United States Government released a statement on February 17 accusing Rwanda of supporting the M23 rebels, a claim that the Congolese government peddles but which Rwanda dismisses. In the statement, the FDLR, which was sanctioned as a terrorist group by the same department in 2001, is called "an armed group named as a 'negative force' by regional bodies and the government of the DRC."

The Rwandan foreign ministry said the US State Department "fundamentally distorts these realities, and stands in puzzling contradiction with the substance and tone of the confidence-building process" initiated by the U.S. Director of National Intelligence in November 2023, which created a productive framework for de-escalation. The US has for months acted as a mediator between DR Congo and Rwanda over the conflict in eastern DR Congo.

"Rwanda will seek clarification from the U.S. Government to ascertain whether its statement represents an abrupt shift in policy, or simply a lack of internal coordination," the Ministry said.

In 2001, the US government added the FDLR, then known as "ALIR a.k.a. Interahamwe, ex-FAR" to the Terrorist Exclusion List under the provisions of the Patriot Act, after the group murdered, and in some cases raped, eight Western tourists in Bwindi, Uganda, including two Americans.

The ministry said the characterisation of this genocidal and terrorist outfit merely as an 'armed group named as a 'negative force' by regional bodies and the government of the DRC' is "a shocking and cynical act of realpolitik, which calls into question the ability of the United States to serve as a credible mediator in the Great Lakes Region."

DR Congo's support to FDLR is "a matter of state policy, not the choice of individual actors," it said, adding that ending Congolese state support for the terrorist group, and ensuring their demobilization and repatriation to Rwanda, is "a non-negotiable requirement to protect Rwanda's territorial integrity and guarantee the preservation of our hard-won national unity for future generations."

"Accordingly, Rwanda reserves the right to take any legitimate measures to defend our country, so long as this threat exists.," the ministry said.

It added that the Rwandan government appreciates and fully supports the tireless mediation efforts of regional leaders, notably President João Lourenço of Angola, and is committed to taking extraordinary steps to achieve security and stability in our region by addressing the root causes of the conflict.

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