KINSHASA -- Opposition lawmakers in the Democratic Republic of Congo have called for what they describe as a secret deal with Rwanda to be debated in public. Lawmakers from several parties walked out of parliament this week to protest a ruling that talks with Rwanda about cross-border relations could only be debated in a closed session.
The call for an open debate comes after an escalation of violence in eastern Congo over the past two months. Some Congolese politicians say that Rwanda is backing a rebel group, the M23, made up of mutineers from the Congolese army.
Since the mutiny in April, there have been intense negotiations between the DRC and Rwanda, including a meeting in early May between the Congolese and Rwandan defense ministers.
Opposition MP Martin Fayulu asserts that an agreement was reached at that meeting that the DRC and Rwandan armies would again undertake joint military action in eastern Congo against a Rwandan rebel group, the FDLR, as they did in 2009.
At a session of parliament Wednesday, Fayulu asked a question about that meeting. The president of the assembly ruled that the question could only be debated in a closed session, after the public had been cleared from the chamber. In protest, Fayulu and a number of other opposition MPs walked out.
"The question I asked to the vice prime minister and minister of defense is that he went to Rwanda and he signed a new agreement with Rwanda’s minister of defense, about the situation in the eastern part of the Congo, and I want to know what the agreement says," Fayulu said.
This is not the first time debates on sensitive subjects have been closed in Congo's parliament. The reason given was that government ministers cannot discuss military strategy in public, as this might put soldiers’ lives at risk. But Fayulu says this is just a pretext.
"I didn’t call the minister of defense to discuss about military strategy," he said. "I called him to discuss politics, because on March 29 they signed the same agreement and that agreement didn’t bring peace to Congo, and why a new agreement? And why all the time we want to discuss the situation in the eastern part, when Rwanda is involved everything has to be secret?"
An MP from the ruling party, Francis Kalombo, told VOA why he agreed with the decision to exclude the public from the debate on Wednesday. He said people in eastern Congo had warned the parliament to watch out for certain MPs who might be complicit with, or might support armed groups and that was why they had decided on a closed-door session, so that everyone could express themselves freely.
Kalombo did not deny that a similar agreement to the one in 2009 in which Congo and Rwanda agreed on joint military operations against the FDLR might soon be revealed. And he said this would be a good thing, because Rwanda has legitimate concerns about the FDLR in Congo, and Congolese civilians are also suffering from the activities of the FDLR.
Another ruling party MP, Edi Alungu, told VOA that good relations between the Congo and Rwanda are key to peace and development for both countries. He said he did not know if there had been any secret agreements with Rwanda, and if there had been he did not know their contents as they were secret.
He suggested that written agreements were not that important. The Congolese, he said, have an oral culture and what matters to them are ‘dry facts.'
Despite the walkout by Fayulu and some of his opposition colleagues, a closed debate was held in the parliament on Wednesday. Little has emerged about what was discussed. The minister for defense will respond to the debate on Monday.