East Africa: DR Congo Halts Rwanda Flights Over Alleged Support for Rebels

The Democratic Republic of Congo has accused the Rwandan government of supporting a resurgent M23 rebel group near their shared eastern border. In retaliation, RwandAir flights to three DRC cities have been grounded.

The Democratic Republic of Congo on Saturday suspended RwandAir flights to the country, accusing Rwanda’s government of supporting the M23 rebel group that has renewed its offensive near their shared border.

The government in Kinshasa also summoned Rwanda’s ambassador to express its disapproval of its neighbor’s “recidivist attitude.”

The decision was announced after an extraordinary national security meeting on Friday chaired by Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi.

RwandAir, the flag carrier of Rwanda, said in a statement it would cancel “with immediate effect” all flights to Kinshasa, Lubumbashi and Goma.

Why did the Congolese government act now?

Kinshasa said it was responding to a fresh campaign of violence by M23 in the east of the country which began last month, after nearly a decade of relative calm.

Last week, the group advanced as close as 20 kilometers (12 miles) to the main eastern Congolese city of Goma and briefly captured the army’s largest base in the area.

The Congolese government has said it found military equipment that was allegedly supplied by Rwanda, along with testimonies from local residents and soldiers suggesting a link between M23 and its neighbor.

“A warning was made to the Rwandans, whose attitude is likely to disrupt the peace process … where all the armed groups, except for the M23, are committed to the path to peace,” Communications Minister Patrick Muyaya said.

Muyaya said the government had designated M23 a terrorist group and would exclude it from peace talks being held in Kenya with militia groups active in eastern DRC.

Kinshasa also accuses Kigali of scuppering the peace process being mediated by Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, who holds the rotating presidency of the East African Community group.

Rwanda denies supporting the rebels and relations between the two countries have nosedived over the past month.

Rwanda on Saturday accused DRC of backing another rebel group that captured two of its soldiers along the shared border this week.

Who is the M23 group?

The M23 movement is made up of former Congolese army soldiers who formed a rebel group in 2012.

Primarily a Congolese Tutsi group, M23 is one of more than 120 armed militia operating in eastern DRC, many of which are a legacy of regional wars more than two decades ago.

The United States says many of the rebel groups are keen to control the country’s valuable natural resources, as the DRC has major deposits of copper, cobalt, gold and diamonds.

M23’s last rebellion was defeated by the Congolese army in 2013 after the rebel group briefly captured the provincial capital Goma a few months earlier.

During M23’s last assault, Congolese and United Nations investigators had also accused Rwanda of supporting the group.

When the rebels resumed their fighting this month, they accused the Congolese government of failing to respect a 2009 agreement under which its fighters were to be incorporated into the army.

Recent clashes between the military and M23 rebels in eastern DRC have displaced 72,000 people, the UN said Friday.

mm/msh (AFP, dpa, Reuters)