The Rwandan military has denied participating in the March 23 Movement (M23) rebel attack in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“We would like to categorically refute the baseless accusations and state that RDF is not by any means involved in the belligerent activities across in DRC,” states a press statement by the Rwandan authorities.
Several army positions came under attack by the M23 rebels since early Monday in the northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), according to local security sources.
M23 rebels launched several attacks on positions of the DRC Armed Forces (FARDC) in the Rutshuru territory, north of Goma, capital of North Kivu province.
On March 28, 2022, at about 1 am local time, near villages of Ndiza, Tshanzu and Runyoni, about 50 km (31 miles) northeast of the provincial capital Goma, M23 rebels attacked FARDC positions.
The Kivu Security Tracker (KST), a US-based monitor of violence in the region, said on Twitter that the fighters belonged to the M23 armed group and that fighting continued until 11am.
In November, the M23 had briefly seized those two strategic villages in a similar overnight attack. Monday’s offensive comes three days after the group, which seized large swathes of territory during an armed uprising in 2012 and 2013, accused the army of waging war against it.
The two villages, Tshanzu and Runyoni, were the last redoubts of the M23 before they were chased by DRC and UN forces into Uganda and Rwanda in 2013.
Since then, there have been regional efforts to demobilize the fighters, but the group has complained about the slow pace at which a peace accord has been implemented, and some have returned to DRC.
Witnesses said sounds of heavy fighting lasted several hours and some local residents fled to the border region, attempting to cross into Uganda, according to local sources.
The M23 is a group of former rebels of the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP). The name came from the March 23, 2009, agreement between the CNDP and the DRC government.
In the recent past, on several occasions since last year, the Congolese military has accused the M23 of attacking its positions.
But for the first time, the Congolese military claimed to have captured two Rwandan soldiers that jointly with M23 attacked their positions.
The two alleged RDF soldiers are; Adjutant Jean Baptiste Habyarimana and Private Uwajeneza Muhindi John a.k.a Zaje, according to a statement by FARDC‘s Brigadier General Gen Sylvain Ekenge Bomusa, the spokesperson of Northern Kivu Governor.
Rwanda denies the existence of the alleged RDF soldiers within their ranks. “This is an attempt to manipulate the opinion by presenting two individuals arrested under obscure circumstances more than one month ago as elements captured in the fighting on March 28, 2022,” Rwanda explains.
Through the governor of Rwanda’s Western Province which shares the border with North Kivu Francois Habitegeko, Rwanda refutes the allegation.
“The two names were mentioned by the Congolese military and intelligence delegation during the Rwanda-DRC Bilateral Meeting of the Joint Intelligence Teams held on February 25, 2022 in Kigali. The Joint Intelligence Teams were not subsequently allowed to interrogate these individuals for a joint assessment, as is the practice,” Rwandan authorities have said.
Rwanda has appealed to the International Conference on Great Lakes Region to verify the allegations. “We call upon EJVM and JIT to investigate those absurd accusations against RDF,” Rwanda appealed.
“Our organization, the M23, which has been able to patiently wait nine years for the implementation of the peace process, deplores this dreadful option of violence,” its spokesman Willy Ngoma said in a statement last week.
UN investigators have previously accused Rwanda and Uganda of supporting the M23. Both countries, which intervened militarily in Congo during two regional wars 20 years ago, deny supporting the group.
In 2017, after hundreds of m23 rebels retreated into Uganda, the Kampala administration reported that hundreds of the rebels “have been quietly escaping into the general public.”
In the same year, Ugandan authorities arrested 101 M23 members, disguised as ordinary passengers, who were being ferried in four vehicles destined for Congo.
In November 2021, the Rwandan Army said M23 rebels who attacked the Congolese originated from Uganda.