KINSHASA— The Democratic Republic of Congo’s government says Rwanda has been smuggling troops out of the eastern DRC. The DRC accuses Rwanda of assisting rebels in the region, an accusation that Rwanda repeatedly has denied.
The Democratic Republic of Congo’s communications minister Lambert Mende has questioned Rwanda’s announcement that last Friday it withdrew a contingent of soldiers who were working with the Congolese army.
Mende does not deny that some units of the Rwandan army, said by local sources to number more than 200, were withdrawn from the territory of Rutshuru last week, but he says they were not part of a joint operation with the Congolese army.
He says the announcement was to disguise a withdrawal of troops that should not have been in the Congo, and were probably helping the rebel group M23.
"We think that it is a trick, because we received here less than 100 intelligence officers. It’s what we agreed with our neighbours - to set up a team of 100 from Congo and 100 from Rwanda to set up a mechanism to monitor the border," Mende said.
Mende says Congo recently decided to dismantle this team, because of worsening relations with Rwanda, and he suggests Kigali has seized this opportunity to smuggle out other soldiers.
"How comes it that now that we have asked for this mechanism to be withdrawn, they are withdrawing 300 soldiers - not officers but soldiers? That means they are exfiltrating soldiers they have infiltrated, and they want them back to Rwanda because there is a lot of pressure from the international community," Mende said.
The conflict between Congo's army and M23 began in April. M23 has since defeated the army in battles in North Kivu province and seized control of several areas including Rutshuru, although they later pulled out of the eastern city.
The rebel group consists of of former Congolese army soldiers loyal to warlord Bosco Ntaganda, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court.
Speaking to the media Monday, Mende reiterated his government’s request to the U.N. Security Council for sanctions to be imposed on senior Rwandan officials and officers cited in a U.N. group of experts' report as helping the M23 rebels.
Those cited include Rwandan Defense Minister James Kabarebe, who was once chief of staff of the Congolese army. Kabarebe has aroused strong feelings in Kinshasa with his derogatory comments about the DRC, which he said in a recent interview had neither a government nor an army.
In place of a joint Congolese-Rwandan border force, the DRC has appealed for an international force to be stationed along the border, with a mandate to eradicate the M23 and the Rwandan FDLR rebels.
Mende says progress has been made this plan, and the next stage will be a foreign ministers’ meeting to prepare for another heads of state meeting in Kampala, to take the decisions so that the force can be set up.