The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has condemned its neighbour Rwanda for “supporting, financing and arming” the M23 rebel group, which seized an important trading hub near the Ugandan border.
“We will defend every centimetre of our territory,” a statement of DRC’s Communications Ministry said, which came a day after M23 rebels took the town of Bunagana in the eastern province of North Kivu.
The statement cited 2018 Nobel Peace Prize winner Denis Mukwege, who was quoted as saying that DRC was the victim of aggression, most recently by the M23, “whose support from Rwanda has been known by all for decades”.
On Monday, the DRC army said Rwandan troops were occupying Bunagana and accused them of an “invasion”. Kigali denies the accusations.
DRC seeks Belgium’s help
The ministry statement added that Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, who visited the country last week, said DRC had “the right to demand from our neighbours that our territory is respected”.
“The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo condemns the participation of the Rwandan authorities in the supporting, financing and arming of this rebellion.”
The ministry said Belgium’s King Philippe and the international community had an “important role” to play to set up a regional dialogue leading to “the easing of tensions and the peaceful resolution of the conflict”.
Philippe accompanied De Croo last week on a historic visit to the central African country his ancestor once ruled brutally as his personal fief.
King Leopold II, the brother of Philippe’s great-great grandfather, oversaw the colonisation of what is now DRC, killing millions while governing the territory as his personal property between 1885 and 1908 before it became a Belgian colony.
The monarch’s trip ended with a visit to Mukwege’s hospital in South Kivu province, an eastern region plagued by armed groups for almost 30 years, where Mukwege worked to aid rape victims.
A mostly Tutsi rebellion defeated in 2013, the M23 resumed fighting in late 2021, saying Kinshasa had reneged on a deal under which its fighters would be integrated into the army.
Fighting in the east between M23 rebels and the army has intensified in recent weeks.