TOP STORIES Congo closes border with Rwanda after soldier dies in...

Congo closes border with Rwanda after soldier dies in shootout

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NAIROBI, Kenya – The Democratic Republic of the Congo closed its border with Rwanda on Friday afternoon after one of its soldiers was killed after injuring two policemen while inside Rwandan territory, escalating months of tension , which raised the specter of war in the African Great Lakes region.

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

It wasn’t immediately clear what sparked the border shootout, but relations between the two countries have soured in recent weeks when Congo has accused Rwanda of backing a rebel group it is fighting in its mineral-rich but troubled eastern regions. .

Simmering tensions threatened to further destabilize a troubled region that had already experienced years of violence, poor governance and corruption, as well as violent insurgencies. The escalation of violence has led to allegations of cross-border attacks and soldier kidnapping from Rwanda, along with protests and reports of hate speech and discrimination against speakers of Kinyarwanda, the official language of Rwanda.

The March 23 Movement, or M23, rebel group clashed with government forces for years and briefly captured Goma, the capital of the eastern province of North Kivu, in 2012.

The group resumed hostilities late last year after accusing the government of not granting amnesty to its soldiers and incorporating them into the armed forces as part of the 2009 peace deal. The rebel group’s forces are made up mostly of Tutsis, the same ethnic group as Rwandan President Paul Kagame, and UN experts have accused his government of broadly supporting the group.

As fighting intensified, this week the M23 movement seized Bunagana, a center for cross-border trade in North Kivu, forcing many of the city’s residents to flee to neighboring Uganda. The capture infuriated Congolese officials, who accused Rwanda of complicity in the “invasion” of their territory.

Rwanda denied supporting the offensive, but that didn’t stop 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,” Congo President Felix Tshisekedi said in a statement. . “This is an economic war for resources being waged by Rwanda’s terrorist gangs.”

Relations between Rwanda and the Congo improved but deteriorated after the Congo allowed Uganda and Burundi to assist in the pursuit of rebels on their territory since the end of last year. In a region where rival nations have long used militias as proxies, this has made “Rwanda increasingly marginalized,” said Nelleke van de Walle, director of the International Crisis Group’s Great Lakes Project.

This week, as the diplomatic standoff between the two Central African countries escalated, demonstrators took to the streets of Goma to denounce Rwanda. During one of the protests, General Sylvain Ekenge, a spokesman for the military governor of North Kivu, told the demonstrators: “Rwanda doesn’t like us. We are not afraid of him and we will fight him,” adding: “If it wants war, it will have war.”

On Friday, the United Nations warned of an increase in documented cases of hate speech in the Congo, saying it was spread by politicians, public figures and members of the diaspora.

“Hate speech fuels conflict by exacerbating mistrust between communities,” Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Alice Nderitu, UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, said in a statement. “It focuses on aspects that used to matter less, provokes an us vs. them debate, and undermines social cohesion between communities that used to live together.”

President of Kenya Uhuru Kenyatta called for the deployment East African Community Regional Force, a seven-nation organization to which both Rwanda and Congo belong. Member regional commanders are due to meet in Nairobi on Sunday to finalize preparations. Congo welcomed Mr. Kenyatta’s proposal, but stated that it would not accept Rwanda’s participation in the joint force.

For Rwanda, the confrontation with the Congo comes in connection with the preparations for the meeting of heads of government of the Commonwealth, which is held every two years, starting on Monday, in which the leaders of the 54 member states of the association will take part. It is also preparing to take in asylum seekers deported from the UK – a controversial scheme that was brought to a halt by multiple lawsuits this week.

Steve Wemby provided a report from Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo.

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