DRC: France openly accuses Rwanda of supporting M23 rebels

DRC: France openly accuses Rwanda of supporting M23 rebels
Bukavu, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, Sunday 12 June 2022 Credit: Benoit Doppagne / Belga

After a surge in insurrectional violence this year by the M23 rebel group – allegedly assisted by the Rwandan military – in the eastern regions of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), France has joined the growing international chorus of condemnation for Rwanda’s involvement in the conflict.

Weeks after France pushed the European Union to send €20 million to Rwanda for its military support in fighting against radical Islamist insurgents in north Mozambique – the French Embassy in the DRC's capital Kinshasa put out a statement on Monday explicitly condemning Rwanda’s support for M23.

“France condemns Rwanda's support for the M23 group and calls for the Luanda and Nairobi processes to be fully implemented,” the French embassy said.

Chrysoula Zacharopoulou, the French Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, addressed reporters including the Belga News Agency in Kinshasa on Tuesday.

"We are witnessing the return of a tragic situation in the east of the DRC. It is unbearable and unacceptable," she continued. "There are responsibilities and France has no difficulty in pointing them out," Zacharopoulou said, adding that "the M23 must stop fighting, disengage and return the occupied territories."

"Rwanda, as it must be [explicitly] named, must stop supporting the M23. We must put an end to the repetition of history in this region," Zacharopoulou said.

With this statement, France is asking all parties to respect the regional efforts to find a harmonious solution for a peaceful co-existence in a region which has suffered decades of brutal conflict and violence.

To achieve that, France is referring to the Luanda and Nairobi peace processes, which saw Congolese, Rwandan, Angolan and Burundian leaders and a facilitator of the East African Community (EAC) meeting in Luanda on 23 November to agree on a ceasefire – despite M23 rebels not being physically present.

The Nariobi peace process has seen three rounds of peace talks facilitated by former Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta alongside the Presidents of DR Congo, Kenya, Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda, with no reported progress.

MONUSCO, United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the DR Congo, shows a helicopter used to combat the M23 rebels in the North Kivu region. Credit: Belga / Christopher Herwig

The statement is a step forward for France, which previously (on 8 December) condemned the violence committed by M23 against civilians in the villages of Kishishe and Bambo in eastern DRC, but stopped short of naming Rwanda.

Due to the increasing reports of civilian massacres and the large displacement of entire communities in eastern DRC, however, France has joined the US' efforts to explicitly condemn Rwanda’s involvement, calling on all armed groups to cease fighting immediately and engage in the disarmament process without delay.

Battle of interests

US President Joe Biden and DRC's President Felix Tshisekedi met on the sidelines of the US-Africa summit last week, with the DRC leader urging Biden to increase the pressure on Rwanda over its support for M23.

The focus of the summit was to boost American-African trade relations, with China heavily featuring as a topic of discussion. Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame, however, snubbed the US advances and defended their right to trade with China. Rwanda has also heavily denied any involvement in the M23 violence, despite increasing evidence being collected of joint military incursions by the UN.

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Additionally, on Monday the UK’s Supreme Court ruled that the current government’s policy to deport asylum seekers – who have had their claims rejected by British authorities – to Rwanda is lawful. The policy will greatly boost the partnership between the UK and Rwanda governments, but could make it harder to hold the Rwandan government accountable for its actions in neighbouring DRC.

On Tuesday, M23 rebels accused Congolese armed forces of breaking the ceasefire agreement in place. The UN has previously warned that the fighting is leading to the displacement of tens of thousands of people as humanitarian conditions continue to deteriorate.

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