NAIROBI, Kenya – The Democratic Republic of the Congo closed its border with Rwanda on Friday afternoon after one of its soldiers was killed after he wounded two police officers while allegedly in Rwanda, leading to a peak of tensions. which raised the specter of war in the Great Lakes region of Africa.
The border closure came hours after Rwanda’s Ministry of Defense announced that a Congolese soldier had opened fire this morning and wounded two security forces at the country’s border. A Rwandan police officer “responded to self-defense”, the ministry said said in a statementkilling the Congolese soldier “25 meters in Rwanda”.
It was not immediately clear what caused the border skirmish, but relations between the two countries have deteriorated in recent weeks, with Congo accusing Rwanda of backing a rebel group fighting mineral-rich but troubled eastern regions.
Rising tensions threaten to further destabilize the troubled region, which has already suffered years of violence, poor governance and corruption, along with brutal riots. The escalation of violence has led to accusations of cross-border attacks and kidnapping of soldiers from Rwanda, along with protests and reports of hate speech and discrimination against Kinyarwanda speakers, the official language of Rwanda.
The rebel group Movement March 23 or M23 has been clashing with government forces for years, and in 2012. briefly conquered Gomathe capital of the eastern province of North Kivu.
The group resumed hostilities late last year after accusing the government of failing to grant amnesty to its soldiers and enlisting them in the army as part of a 2009 peace deal. a group like President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, and UN experts blame his government to broadly support the group.
As fighting intensified, M23 seized Bunagana, a center for cross-border trade in North Kivu, this week, forcing many of the city’s residents to flee to neighboring Uganda. The seizure angered Congolese officials, who accused Rwanda of aiding an “invasion” of their territory.
Rwanda has refused to support the offensive, but that has not stopped Congolese officials from suspending bilateral agreements with the country on Thursday.
“The security situation in the east of the country continues to deteriorate, mainly because Rwanda seeks to occupy our land, rich in gold, coltan and cobalt, for its own exploitation and profit,” Congolese President Felix Chisekedi said in a statement. . “This is an economic war over the resource battle waged by Rwanda’s terrorist gangs.”
Relations between Rwanda and the Congo improved, but deteriorated after the Congo allowed Uganda and Burundi to help pursue rebels on its territory since late last year. In a region where competing nations have long used militias as proxiesthis left “Rwanda increasingly marginalized,” said Neleke van de Vale, director of the International Crisis Group’s Great Lakes project.
This week, as diplomatic opposition between the two Central African countries intensified, protesters took to the streets of Goma to condemn Rwanda. During one of the protests gene. Sylvain Ekenge, a spokesman for the military governor of North Kivu province, told protesters: “We don’t like Rwanda. We are not afraid of him and we will fight him, “he said.” If he wants a war, there will be a war. “
The United Nations warned on Friday of an increase in documented cases of hate speech in the Congo, saying politicians, community leaders and members of the diaspora were spreading it.
“Hate speech fuels conflict by exacerbating mistrust between communities,” said Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Alice Nderitou, the UN Special Adviser on Prevention of Genocide. “It focuses on aspects that used to be less important,” he said. them ”and erodes social cohesion between communities that have previously lived together.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta has called for deployment of the Regional Powers of the East African Community, a body of seven countries to which both Rwanda and the Congo belong. Member States’ regional commanders are due to meet in Nairobi on Sunday to finalize preparations. Congo welcomes the proposal of Mr. Kenya, however, said it would not accept Rwanda’s participation in the combined forces.
For Rwanda, opposition to the Congo comes as it prepares to host the biennial meeting of heads of government of the British Commonwealth, starting Monday, which will bring together leaders from the association’s 54 member states. It is also preparing to accept asylum seekers deported from Britain – a controversial scheme that it was stopped from a number of legal challenges this week.
Steve Wemby contributed to a report from Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo.