Tuesday 17 September 2013

Rwanda defends military deployment along Congo border

RWANDA has responded to regional criticism about its military deployment along the frontier with the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo saying its territory had been repeatedly hit by cross-border shelling.

"Rwanda did not deploy along the border for the sake of it. During a 10-day period our country was shelled 34 times," Rwanda’s ambassador to South Africa, Vincent Karega, told BDlive on Monday.

"That was an invitation for Rwanda to intervene," he said, suggesting that the stray shelling was not accidental but a ploy to try to suck Rwanda into the continuing conflict. It pits Congolese troops, supported by United Nations (UN) "peace enforcers", against the Rwandan-backed Congolese rebels called M23.

Rwanda first complained about the shelling during August’s intense fighting in areas north of the eastern Congo city of Goma. The M23 rebels were forced to retreat and there have been no reports of cross-border incursions by Rwanda’s army, one of Africa’s best.

But Rwanda was criticised at a special summit of the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) in Windhoek last Wednesday. Rwanda is not a Sadc member.

"(The) summit expressed concern at the deployment of Rwandan troops along the common border with the DRC and also expressed the hope that Rwanda is not contemplating to invade the DRC, for that will complicate the already delicate situation," a communiqué after the one-day meeting said.

The summit of Sadc’s troika — Namibia, Lesotho and Tanzania — was also attended by the Congo, Malawi and South Africa, the communiqué said. It was issued 48 hours after the summit, accounting for the scant publicity which the meeting attracted.

The leaders praised the efforts of the 3,000-strong UN force in the Congo, the UN Organisation Stabilisation Mission (Monusco), which is supporting the government army against the M23 rebels.

The brigade has a contingent of 1,345 troops from the South African National Defence Force, three of whom were lightly wounded in August, and units from Tanzania and Malawi.

The brigade’s aggressive mandate, agreed by the UN Security Council in March and extended to other Monusco units, is to clear all "negative forces" from the eastern Congo.

The goal is to put an end to the chronic instability and attacks on civilians that have continued since the 1994 genocide in Rwanda when up to 1-million people, mostly minority Tutsi, were put to death by majority Hutu extremists.

Rwanda is concerned the target is only the M23, while the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) — exiled remnants of the former government army in Rwanda that helped to commit the genocide — are being left unscathed.

"Up to now it is only one group that is targeted. If the FDLR does not feel targeted, it will be dangerous," Mr Karega said.

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