The Democratic Republic of the Congo’s information minister says the government in Kinshasa enjoys good relations with Rwanda in spite of the diplomatic challenges between the two neighboring countries.
Lambert Mende says Kigali has assured the DRC as well as the international community of cooperation after his government issued international warrants for four former leaders of the M23 rebel group believed to be in Rwanda.
“They were already wanted here in DRC when they fought against the government in North Kivu. Since we learned from a communique from the Rwanda government that they were receiving asylum, we sent a warrant of arrest that was sent by diplomatic [channels] to our Rwanda government counterpart to have the four sent back here in Congo so that they [can appear] before the court,” said Mende.
The M23 leaders wanted for extradition include M23 Jean-Marie Runiga and military commanders Baudouin Ngaruye, Eric Badege and Innocent Zimurinda. Kinshasa has accused them of committing crimes against humanity, war crimes, torture and other offenses.
Relations between the Central African neighbors have been strained by DRC accusations that Kigali has been supporting the rebels. Rwanda denies the charge.
Some analysts say Kigali might not enforce the DRC arrest warrants due to the diplomatic spat between the two countries. Mende acknowledged the tensions, but said Rwanda will extradite the M23 rebels due to a recently signed agreement between countries of the Great Lakes region – including Rwanda and the DRC -- in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The signatories swore to eradicate rebel groups in North Kivu province.
“We received [a] statement from the Rwanda government [saying] they are going to cooperate,” said Mende. “We also have a judiciary agreement with Rwanda. We have not yet received any response from them, but we are waiting with [heightened] interest …. because [it] reiterates its commitment to cooperate with the provision of the agreement. And we have no reason to doubt that they will act accordingly.”
Mende denies accusations that soldiers from the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC) attacked unarmed civilians following the latest clashes with the M23 rebels.
“Not a single bullet from FARDC targeted civilians in Rumangabo,” said Mende. “We targeted the headquarters of M23, where [rebel] elements were meeting with the Rwandese Defense Forces to plan and to launch an attack against our troops, and we destroyed their depot of ammunitions. While escaping from Rumangabo barracks, these M23 and Rwanda alliance fired on civilians.”