Relations have been tense since the massive arrival of Rwandan Hutus in eastern DRC following the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
Hundreds have staged an anti-Rwanda protest in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), over Kigali’s alleged support for the M23, a notorious rebel group, as tensions mount between the two neighbors.
During Monday’s demonstration, protesters also called for the expulsion of the Rwandan ambassador and waved nationalist slogans on banners.
“Congo is our country… not an inch goes to Rwanda,” read one.
Relations have been tense since the mass arrival in eastern DRC of Rwandan Hutus accused of butchering Tutsis during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.
But relations began to thaw after DRC President Felix Tshisekedi took office in 2019, but the recent resurgence of M23 violence has reignited tensions, exacerbated by the detention of two Rwandan soldiers in Congo.
The protesters held candles and shouted slogans at Rwandan President Paul Kagame. “We support the FARDC (the Congolese army), our young people are ready to do military service to defend the country,” said Pasi Nkoy of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress party.
Kinshasa, meanwhile, reiterated allegations that Kigali supported the M23 – a mainly Congolese Tutsi group – after clashes broke out last week between its fighters and the Congolese army in North Kivu province, which borders Rwanda.
However, government spokesman Patrick Muyaya said on Monday that Kinshasa was not closing the door on negotiations.
On Saturday, Rwandan Air announced it was canceling flights to the DRC after Congolese authorities suspended the airline and summoned Kigali’s ambassador.
The Rwanda Defense Force later said two soldiers had been kidnapped on patrol and held by the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, another rebel group operating in eastern DRC.
The United Nations said Friday that the latest clashes had displaced 72,000 people and warned that those displaced were facing continued violence and the looting of their homes.
The rebels’ latest attack killed 16 people, injured seven and set vehicles on fire in a nighttime raid in the volatile east, the Red Cross and locals said Monday.
The raid took place in Bulongo in North Kivu province Sunday night, according to village youth president Andika Miheko, who blamed the infamous Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) group.
“They set fire to five vehicles and the people inside were burned,” he said, adding that the violence continued into the early hours of Monday morning.
Sahani Kambale, the head of the Bulongo Red Cross branch, said the humanitarian group discovered 16 bodies after the attack. Seven people were also injured.
One of the dead was a Red Cross employee who was shot while trying to flee, according to the organization’s local secretary, Albert Ndungo.
The latest attack is the fourth in Bulongo attributed to the ADF since 2020.
The ADF, described by the ISIL (ISIS) group as its local affiliate, has been accused of killing thousands of civilians in the troubled eastern DRC. According to the army and others, ADF rebels also killed 27 civilians on Saturday in an attack elsewhere in North Kivu.
Since May last year, Congolese security forces have been leading the governments of North Kivu and the neighboring province of Ituri in an attempt to destroy the numerous rebel groups operating there.