The Governor of Rwanda’s Western Province, François Habitegeko, on Tuesday, categorically refuted “the baseless accusations” from the spokesperson of neighboring DR Congo’s North Kivu Province.
Gen Sylvain Ekenge, the spokesperson for the North Kivu Governor has accused the Rwanda Defence Force (RDF) of supporting armed elements that attacked FARDC.
The attacks were first reported on Monday in the villages of Tshanzu and Runyoni, about 31 miles northeast of the North Kivu Provincial capital, Goma.
At a press briefing, Gen Ekenge paraded two men whom he alleged were captured Rwandan soldiers supporting the M23 rebels in the Congolese territory of Rutshuru.
While accusing Rwanda of conspiring with M23 rebels, Ekenge claimed that the two soldiers were arrested during the attacks.
In a statement, Habitegeko said: “We are made aware of a communiqué and media reports emanating from the Spokesperson of the North Kivu Governor, which, in the name of FARDC, accuses Rwanda Defence Force of supporting armed elements that attacked FARDC in areas of Tshanzu and Runyoni.”
“We would like to categorically refute the baseless accusations and state that RDF is not by any means involved in the belligerent activities across in DRC. The communiqué and media reports from the North Kivu Governor’s Spokesman allege that the two individuals, purportedly members of RDF were captured. We would like to contest these false allegations. The two names were mentioned by the Congolese Military and Intelligence Delegation during DRC- Rwanda Bilateral Meeting of the Joint Intelligence Teams held on 25 February 2022 in Kigali. The Joint Intelligence Teams were not subsequently allowed to interrogate those individuals for a Joint Assessment as is the practice.”
Habitegeko noted that the Rwandan military does not have any members with the names presented in the statement by the spokesperson for the North Kivu Governor.
Habitegeko said this is “an attempt to manipulate the opinion by presenting two individuals arrested under obscure circumstances” more than one month ago, as elements captured in the fighting on March 28.
The development comes after a similar incident in November 2021 when an armed group believed to be ex-M23 rebels, crossed into DR Congo, attacked, and occupied the villages of Tshanzu and Runyoni. At the time, sections of the Congolese media and officials pointed a finger at RDF but the latter said it was neither involved in nor supported any activities of the ex-M23 armed group.
The two villages, Tshanzu and Runyoni, were the last strongholds of the M23 before they were chased by Congolese and UN forces into Uganda and Rwanda in 2013.
Two days after the November 2021 incident, the DR Congo Armed Forces (FARDC) Chief of General Staff, Gen. Célestin Mbala Munsense, was on an official visit to Rwanda where he held discussions centered on the regional security situation and the fight against terrorist groups, with his Rwandan counterparts.
On the allegations that M23 elements conducted an attack on DR Congo territory from Rwanda and Uganda, Gen Mbala at the time said: “We have opted to give time to the Expanded Joint Verification Mechanism (EJVM) to do its work and give us precisions on the situation.”
The two neighbouring countries, Habitegeko noted, have verification mechanisms under the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) and at the bilateral level to verify such allegations and DR Congo should have activated them “if they were acting in good faith.”
“We call upon EJVM and JIT to investigate these absurd accusations against RDF.”
He noted that Kigali has consistently offered its cooperation for the repatriation of Congolese ex-combatants, who were disarmed and cantoned. The government of Rwanda, he noted, should not bear the responsibility for the failure of the government of DR Congo to conclude the process harmoniously.