Rwanda says it is ready to face any attack from the Democratic Republic of Congo, following various declarations to wage war by Congolese government officials, including President Félix Antoine Tshisekedi.
This was said on Thursday by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr Vincent Biruta, while addressing a joint sitting of Parliament focussing on the diplomatic relations between Rwanda and neighbouring countries.
Dr. Biruta told legislators that relations between Rwanda and neighbouring countries, including Uganda, Tanzania and Burundi are cordial and on the right track but ties with DRC have extremely deteriorated since last year.
Minister Biruta said that the deterioration of bilateral ties resulted from the resurgence of M23 last year, with the rebels taking up arms against the DRC government for failing to honour peace agreements and an increase in hate speech targeting Kinyarwanda-speaking communities.
Giving a historical background of the crisis, Dr. Biruta said that Congo shifted blame to Rwanda, accusing Kigali of supporting the determined rebels who have since claimed parts of North Kivu and declared a war against Genocide on Thursday.
He told MPs that the rebirth of M23 signalled a failure by DRC to handles its own issues internally, including dealing with the over 100 armed groups operating in the country such as FDLR and other affiliated armed groups linked to the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
Dr. Biruta gave a historical background of how M23 came about and their grievances which were not handled properly by the DRC government, despite different accords in place and efforts by Rwanda to engage DRC on the issue of Congolese refugees in Rwanda.
Reiterating what President Paul Kagame has previously said, Dr. Biruta said that the M23 rebels who reignited the insurgency last year did not come from Rwanda and neither were they backed by Rwanda.
“The picked-up arms again last year because the government of DRC did not honour the provisions of the peace accord signed in 2013 in Nairobi, when the first insurgency was defeated by the intervention brigade,”
“In fact, the rebels who attacked DRC last year did not come from Rwanda. The M23 members who fled to Rwanda at the time were disarmed and put in an internment camp as we negotiated the way forward with the DRC government,” he said, adding that the efforts never bore any fruits.
Minister Biruta said that when the M23 reorganised and resumed fighting last, DRC quickly blamed Rwanda, accusing it of backing the armed group, shying away from its own responsibility in the issue.
The renewed fighting marked the beginning of the deterioration of ties between the two neighbours as the M23 advanced and occupied areas where the Congolese Tutsi were being targeted in hitherto planned ethnic killings.
Dr. Biruta said that Rwanda also raised the concern of FDLR to Kinshasa and the international community because a report had showed that members of FDLR and other armed groups driven by the genocide ideology are allied with the Congolese government forces, FARDC.
“Through all these processes, the DRC government did not want to listen and continued to accuse Rwanda. We raised concerns about attacks on Rwandan territory carried out by FDLR, including one in Kinigi, in October 2019, which claimed 15 people and injured many,”
“We raised this concern because we had evidence that the attack was carried out by FDLR and RUD Urunana, coming from DRC but they did not take us seriously. This was followed by a series of blatant shelling of Rwandan territory by FDLR,” Dr. Biruta told legislators.
He said that since the renewed fighting, DRC has been trying to provoke Rwanda into war as the conflict escalated but Kigali remained firm on finding a peaceful resolution to the conflict, first by addressing the root causes.
Dr. Biruta said that DRC has gone on to water down regional efforts to resolve the conflict, by disregarding the Luanda and Nairobi summits, which called for the disarming of armed groups operating in DRC.
The shelling was followed by incursions by Congolese military jets on Rwandan territory, actions which riled Rwanda but the Congolese government blatantly denied and played victim.
“Over the last three months fighter jets from the Congo invaded Rwanda’s air space three times, the most recent prompting our armed forces to act, firing on one of the jets which sustained some damage as it flew back to Congo,”
“I’m telling you all this to show you how DRC has been provoking us, trying to draw us into a war,” he said, adding that Congolese leaders have been openly calling for war on Rwanda.
He said that following the shooting of the fighter jet, government officials in DRC declared that Congo will attack Rwanda in revenge.
Dr. Biruta said Rwanda is ready to welcome any attack from the DRC and will respond as it should.
“Just a few days ago they openly declared that they will reciprocate. While we are willing to be part of the peace processes, we should also be ready for any eventuality,”
“We don’t know what others are planning. So, if necessary, security and sovereignty of our country will be protected as it should be,”
Minister Biruta said that in their pronouncements, Congolese officials lament about territorial sovereignty but they don’t seem to understand what sovereignty means.
“If you want your sovereignty to be respected, you ought to respect the inviolability of the sovereignty of others too,” Dr. Biruta told legislators, adding that Rwanda will take appropriate security measures when the need arises.
During the session, MPs inquired more on what the next steps could be if the neighbour to the west continues to provoke Rwanda and he pointed out that the country is ready in all ways but most importantly the government favours a peaceful solution.
He said that the DRC has been dishonest in efforts to resolve the impasse, doing the opposite of what is agreed upon and pulling out of talks it requested for.
Ethnic cleansing continues
During the session which was attended by scores of diplomatic corps, Dr. Biruta said that while all this is happening, ethnic cleansing and hate speech continue in DRC, fuelled by government officials and assisted by government forces known as FARDC.
Rwanda’s top diplomat said that little has been done to stop the massacres being carried out by FDLR and other groups allied to FARDC, including Mai Mai, PARECO, Nyatura and others which are wreaking havoc on Tutsi communities in DRC.
Dr. Biruta said that the international community cannot continue to look on as a genocide is unfolding on people who historically found themselves on the other side of the border as a result of colonialism.
He questioned the silence of the international community and the selective condemnation, where the only armed group mentioned is M23 yet the likes of FDLR and allied groups as well as Ugandan rebel group ADF continue to kill people in North Kivu, South Kivu and Ituri provinces respectively.
Minister Biruta reiterated that people should not be killed for who they are while the government of DRC continues to shun responsibility.