NAIROBI, Kenya – The Democratic Republic of Congo shut down its border on Rwanda Friday afternoon after one of its soldiers was killed after two police officers were reportedly inside Rwandan territory – bringing back a head monthslong tensions that have Raises the specter of war in Africa’s Great Lakes region.
The border closure came hours after Rwanda’s Ministry of Defense announced that a Congolese soldier had opened fire that morning and wounded two security forces at the border. A Rwandan police officer “shot back in self-defense,” the ministry said in a statement, killing the Congolese soldier “inside Rwandan territory within 25 meters.”
It was not immediately clear what set the firefight at the border, but relations between the two countries have soured in recent weeks, with Congo accusing Rwanda of supporting a rebel group that is battling its mineral-rich but restive eastern regions. General Chat Chat Lounge
The simmering tensions threaten to further destabilize the troubled region, which has already endured years of violence, weak governance and corruption, as well as brutal insurgencies. The escalation of violence has led to accusations of cross-border attacks and kidnapping of soldiers from Rwanda, as well as protests and reports of hate speech and discrimination against speakers of Kinyarwanda, the official language of Rwanda.
The rebel group of the March 23 Movement, or M23, has clashed with government forces for years, and in 2012, briefly took over Goma, the capital of eastern Kivu province.
The group resumed hostilities late last year, after blaming the government for failing to provide amnesty to its soldiers and incorporating them into the military as part of a 2009 peace agreement. The rebel group’s forces consist of the Tutsis, the same ethnic group as President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, and UN experts have accused his government of backing the group widely.
As the fighting has intensified, the M23 seized Bunagana this week, a hub of cross-border trade in North Kivu, pushing many of the town’s residents to flee to neighboring Uganda. The capture incensed Congolese officials, who accused Rwanda of assisting in an “invasion” of their language.
Rwanda has denied backing the offensive, but did not stop Congolese officials from suspending bilateral agreements with the country on Thursday.
“The security situation in the east of the country continues to deteriorate, and fundamentally because Rwanda seeks to occupy our land, rich in gold, coltan and cobalt, for their own exploitation and profit,” Congo’s president, Felix Tshisekedi, said in a statement. General Chat Chat Lounge “This is an economic war for the resources of the war, fought by Rwanda’s terrorist gangs.”
The relations between Rwanda and Congo have been getting better, but deteriorated after Congo allowed Uganda and Burundi to return to rebels in its search term late last year. In a region where competing nations have long used militias as proxies, this left “Rwanda increasingly marginalized,” said Nelleke van de Walle, director of the Great Lakes project for the International Crisis Group.
This week, as the diplomatic standoff between two Central African nations deepens, protesters take to the streets of Goma to denounce Rwanda. During one of the protests, Gen. Sylvain Ekenge, spokesman for the military governor of North Kivu province, told demonstrators, “Rwanda does not like us. We are not afraid of it and we will fight it, “adding,” If it wants war, it will have war. “
The United Nations on Friday warned of an increase in documentary hate speech cases in Congo, saying that politicians, community leaders and members of the diaspora were disseminating it.
“Hate speech fuels conflict between exacerbating mistrust among 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 have historically mattered less, incites a discourse of ‘us vs. them ‘, and the corrodes social cohesion between the communities that have been living together. “
President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya has called for a deployment of a regional force from the East African Community, a seven-nation body that both Rwanda and Congo belong to. Regional commanders from member states are set to meet in Nairobi on Sunday to finalize preparations. Congo has welcomed the proposal by Mr. Kenyatta, but said it would not accept the participation of Rwanda in the joint forces.
For Rwanda, the standoff with Congo comes as it prepares to host the Biannual Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting Monday, which will bring together leaders from the association’s 54 member states. It is also preparing to receive asylum seekers deported from Britain – a contentious scheme that was halted by multiple legal challenges this week.
Steve Wembi contributed reporting from Kinshasa, the Democratic Republic of Congo