Tensions between Congo and Rwanda heighten the risk of military confrontation, UN envoy says

The top U.N. official in Congo is warning the Security Council that tensions between Congo and Rwanda have escalated, heightening the risk of a military confrontation that could draw in Burundi

Edith M. Lederer
Tuesday 12 December 2023 00:42 GMT

Tensions between Congo and Rwanda have escalated, heightening the risk of a military confrontation that could draw in Burundi, the top U.N. official in Congo warned the Security Council on Monday.

Special representative Bintou Keita’s warning came shortly before the ambassadors from Congo and Rwanda traded accusations in the council, and nine days ahead of Congo's Dec. 20 presidential election, in which President Felix Tshisekedi is seeking a second term against two dozen candidates.

As voting nears, Congo’s government is also doubling down on a push to have regional and international peacekeeping forces withdraw, including the U.N.’s more than 17,700-member force. A regional force of officers from East African countries began leaving eastern Congo’s largest city, Goma, last week.

Tshisekedi has long accused Rwanda and its president, Paul Kagame, of providing military support to M23 rebels, the latest iteration of Congolese Tutsi fighters to seize towns in parts of mineral-rich North Kivu. The U.N. and human rights groups accuse M23 of atrocities including rape and mass killings and say it receives backing from Rwanda -- but Rwanda denies any ties with the rebels.

Keita told the council that the eastern provinces are facing escalating insecurity, “especially related to the renewed M23 crisis.” But she said new pockets of insecurity also have emerged in other parts of the country, notably the Greater Katanga region and Mai-Ndombe and Tshopo provinces.

She stressed that insecurity “has compounded the ongoing humanitarian crisis.”

According to the U.N. humanitarian office, over 6.5 million people are displaced in Congo, 5.5 million of them in the three eastern provinces. “According to preliminary figures, over 500,000 people have fled their homes following renewed hostilities between the M23 and the Congolese armed forces since early October,” Keita said.

Congolese Ambassador Zenon Mukongo accused Rwandan soldiers of supporting the M23 rebels, citing events starting in November 2022.

He reiterated his country’s call for “an end to the Rwandan aggression,” withdrawal of its troops and “the eradication of armed interest groups in Congo including M23,” and urged the Security Council to take action to achieve this.

More than 120 armed groups are fighting over land and control of valuable minerals in Congo’s eastern regions.

Rwanda’s new U.N. ambassador, Ernest Rwamucyo, accused the Congolese government “and its coalition of illegal armed militia groups … and foreign mercenaries” of violating a regionally brokered peace process.

He said Congo’s termination of the African regional force “undermines all the regional efforts to bring peace” to eastern Congo, and urged the government to recommit to the agreements.

As for the upcoming elections, Keita said campaigning began relatively peacefully but “violent clashes between supporters of rival political parties are occurring in many provinces.”

The U.N. envoy said she is also “alarmed by the proliferation of mis- and disinformation as well as hate speech, online and offline” during the campaign and called on all parties to end those practices.

Keita, who heads the U.N. peacekeeping force, said she signed a joint disengagement plan with Foreign Minister Christope Lutundula on Nov. 21. She did not disclose any details, but it calls for a phased withdrawal of MONUSCO troops.

U.N. peacekeepers have faced protests and criticism from residents who see them as toothless and unable to protect civilians in Congo, which has a population of 100 million and is the world’s top cobalt producer and fifth-largest producer of copper.

President Tshisekedi, who has called for U.N. peacekeepers to leave, told a rally Sunday that the United Nations “came to help and protect the Congolese people, but it didn’t work.”

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in