Congo closes Rwanda border after soldier is killed

NAIROBI, Kenya – The Democratic Republic of Congo closed its border with Rwanda on Friday afternoon after one of its soldiers was killed after he injured two police officers while allegedly on the side. in Rwanda – leading to months of tension. sparks the specter of war in Africa’s Great Lakes region.

The border closure comes hours after the Rwandan Defense Ministry announced that a Congolese soldier that morning opened fire and wounded two security forces on the country’s border. A Rwandan police officer “shot back in self-defense”, Ministry said in a statementkills Congo solder “25 meters inside Rwandan territory.”

It was not immediately clear what sparked the border shootout, but relations between the two countries have deteriorated in recent weeks, with Congo accusing Rwanda of supporting a rebel group fighting in the country. the eastern regions are rich in minerals but resilient. .

Smoldering tensions threaten to further destabilize the troubled region, which has endured years of violence, poor governance and corruption, along with brutal uprising. The escalating violence has led to accusations of cross-border attacks and kidnap soldiers from Rwanda, along with protests and reports of hate speech and discrimination against speakers of Kinyarwanda, the official language of Rwanda.

The insurgent group March 23, or M23, has for years clashed with government forces, and in 2012, briefly took over Gomacapital of Northeastern Kivu province.

The group resumed hostilities late last year, after blaming the government for not pardoning its soldiers and sending them into the army as part of a 2009 peace deal. of the mainly Tutsis insurgent group, the same ethnic group as President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, and UN experts have accuse his government broadly support the group.

As fighting intensified, the M23 this week seized Bunagana, a cross-border trade hub in North Kivu, sending many of the town’s residents into neighboring Uganda. The arrest angered Congolese officials, who accused Rwanda of supporting an “invasion” into their territory.

Rwanda has denied backing the attack, but that did not stop Congolese officials from suspending bilateral agreements with the country on Thursday.

“The security situation in the eastern part of the country continues to deteriorate, and it is basically because Rwanda is trying to take over our land, which is rich in gold, coltan and cobalt, to mine it and make their own profit,” the owner said. Congolese President, Felix Tshisekedi, said in a statement. . “This is an economic war for resources, fought by the terrorist gangs of Rwanda.”

The relationship between Rwanda and the Congo got better, but deteriorated after the Congo allowed Uganda and Burundi to help chase rebels in its territory starting late last year. In a region where competing countries have have long used militia as proxythis leaves “Rwanda increasingly marginalized,” said Nelleke van de Walle, Great Lakes project manager for the International Crisis Group.

This week, as diplomatic ties between the two Central African countries deepened, protesters took to the streets of Goma to denounce Rwanda. During one demonstration, General Sylvain Ekenge, spokesman for the military governor of North Kivu province, told protesters, “Rwanda doesn’t like us. We are not afraid of it and we will fight it,” added, “If it wants war, it will have war. “

The United Nations on Friday warned of an increase in recorded cases of hate speech in Congo, saying politicians, community leaders and community members had disseminated it.

“Hate speech promotes conflict by exacerbating mistrust among communities,” said Michelle Bachelet, UN high commissioner for human rights, and Alice Nderitu, UN special adviser on containment genocide, said in a statement. “It focuses on aspects that were previously less important, provokes discussion about ‘us and them’, and erodes social cohesion between communities that previously lived together.”

President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya has call for implementation of a regional force from the East African Community, a bloc of seven countries to which both Rwanda and Congo belong. Regional commanders from member states will meet in Nairobi on Sunday to finalize preparations. Congo welcomed Mr. Kenyatta’s proposal, but said it would not accept Rwanda’s participation in the joint force.

As for Rwanda, the stalemate with Congo comes as the country prepares to host the six-monthly Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting starting Monday, which will bring together leaders from 54 countries. members of the association. It is also preparing to take in asylum seekers deported from the UK – a controversial plan has been paused by numerous legal challenges this week.

Steve Wembi Reporting contributions from Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo.

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