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US ‘concerned’ by reports of Rwandan support for DRC rebels

#concerned #reports #Rwandan #support #DRC #rebels

Foreign Secretary Antony Blinken said Tuesday the United States was “concerned” by “credible” reports that Rwanda was supporting rebels in eastern DRC.

The resurgence of the M23 group in Congo’s troubled east has heightened tensions between neighbors, with Kinshasa accusing Kigali of backing the rebels.

Blinken spoke in the Congolese capital of Kinshasa, where he arrived on Tuesday for the second leg of a three-nation Africa tour and met President Felix Tshisekedi.

Rwanda has denied the allegations and Blinken is scheduled to visit the country after a one-day stay in Kinshasa.

“We are very concerned by credible reports that Rwanda supported the M23,” the top US diplomat said at a news conference in Kinshasa.

“All countries must respect the territorial integrity of their neighbors,” he added, saying he was “not turning a blind eye” and would raise the issue with Rwandan President Paul Kagame.

Blinken said his trip to the region was to ensure US support for mediation efforts led by Angola and Kenya “to prevent further violence, end conflict (and) preserve the territorial integrity of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.”

The DRC is seeking international support as it fights with Rwanda over the M23, a mainly Congolese Tutsi group that is one of many operating in the troubled east.

After years of mostly dormancy, the rebels resumed fighting late last year, seizing the strategic town of Bunagana on the Uganda border in June, prompting thousands of people to flee their homes.

In a 131-page report to the UN Security Council, seen by AFP last week, experts said Rwandan troops had been militarily intervening in the DRC since at least November.

Rwanda “also provided troop reinforcements” for certain M23 operations, the expert report said, “particularly when these were aimed at capturing strategic cities and territories.”

Kinshasa and Kigali have had strained relations since the mass influx of Rwandan Hutus accused of slaughtering Tutsis during the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Relations began to thaw after Tshisekedi took office in 2019, but the resurgence of the M23 has reignited tensions.

Also known as the “March 23 Movement,” the group first came to prominence in 2012 when they briefly seized the city of Goma before being driven out by a joint Congolese and UN offensive.

– Rwanda and M23 –

Blinken arrived in Kinshasa from South Africa, where he said the United States seeks a “real partnership” with Africa and is not vying with other powers for influence on the continent.

Tshisekedi was “to raise the issues of the strategic partnership between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the United States,” during his meeting with Blinken at the presidential palace, his office said in a statement Monday.

On the eve of Blinken’s swing through the DRC and Rwanda, Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on him to condemn the M23 attacks and urge Rwanda on its human rights record, which has included “brutal” crackdowns on dissidents.

“As in 2012, the M23 are committing war crimes against civilians,” HRW said in a statement.

“Witnesses described the summary killings of at least 29 people, including children, in June and July… The US should provide reliable reports with Rwanda that it is once again supporting the abusive behavior of the M23 in eastern Congo.”

The M23 is just one of numerous armed groups operating in eastern DRC, many of them the legacy of two regional wars that broke out at the end of the last century.

One of the bloodiest militias is the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) – an organization that the Islamic State group calls its “Central African Province” subsidiary.

The State Department added the ADF to its list of ISIS-affiliated “terrorist” organizations in March 2021.

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