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Rwanda army using surface-to-air missiles in east DR Congo: UN report

By AFP
Congo Thousands of people have fled the upsurge in fighting between M23 rebels and DR Congo government forces.  By Aubin Mukoni AFPFile
FEB 12, 2024 LISTEN
Thousands of people have fled the upsurge in fighting between M23 rebels and DR Congo government forces. By Aubin Mukoni (AFP/File)

The Rwandan army supporting M23 rebels in an escalating conflict in eastern DR Congo is using sophisticated weapons such as surface-to-air missiles, according to a UN document seen by AFP on Monday.

Amid intensifying fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a "suspected Rwandan Defence Force (RDF) mobile surface-to-air missile (SAM)" was fired at a UN observation drone last Wednesday without hitting it, the confidential report said.

"External military intelligence from France supports assessment that the suspected WZ551 6×6 IFV mobile SAM system is Rwandan," it added.

Attached to the report are two aerial images in which a six-wheeled armoured vehicle is visible with a radar and missile launcher system on the roof.

The photos were taken by the targeted drone about 70 kilometres (44 miles) north of the city of Goma, in rebel-held Rutshuru territory.

The UN's MONUSCO peacekeeping mission says in the document it has "no past reporting of known armed groups possessing the training, capital or resources to operate and maintain a mobile SAM system".

It added that it "indicates an escalation of conventional force conflict in eastern DRC".

The document notes that M23 and the Rwanda army have used numerous weapons against aircraft and also have in their armoury anti-aircraft guns and MANPAD mobile air defence systems.

Such weapons pose a high risk to all DRC government and UN aircraft in the region, the document states.

In late January, M23 spokesman Willy Ngoma appeared in a video on YouTube threatening MONUSCO with reprisals and accusing it of supplying "enemies", or DRC forces, with information about rebel activity gathered by drones.

Ngoma shows what he said was debris from a CH-4 drone flown by DRC forces and shot down by a rebel.

The DRC, the UN and Western countries say Rwanda is supporting the rebels, an allegation Kigali denies.

Clashes have intensified recently between the M23 -- among the strongest of dozens of armed groups roaming the troubled east -- and the Congolese army.

The flare-up has pushed thousands of civilians to flee the town of Sake, a strategic location on the route towards Goma, capital of North Kivu province.

At least three people died and a dozen were wounded Monday when a "bomb" fell on a camp for the displaced near Goma, local sources said.

The Sake region, 20 kilometres (12 miles) west of the city, saw heavy fighting between government forces and M23 rebels during the day.

A civil society source accused M23 of hitting the Zaina camp. "There were five killed and 15 hurt," the source said.

A medical source reported that three of 18 casualties had died in the attack.

Communications Minister and government spokesman Patrick Muyaya accused the Rwandan army of "firing the bomb in the early evening" and listed eight people seriously injured.

Protests target embassies, UN

The M23 has seized vast swathes of North Kivu since emerging from dormancy in late 2021, in an area wracked by violence for decades following regional wars in the 1990s.

DRC authorities on Monday stepped up security outside embassies and UN buildings after they were targeted by protesters accusing the West of supporting M23.

On Saturday, embassy and United Nations vehicles were targeted by demonstrators.

Protests broke out last week in Kinshasa and the southeastern city of Lubumbashi.

On Friday, dozens of youths demonstrated outside the French and British embassies and earlier in the week, in front of the US embassy.

The government announced tighter security for embassies late Sunday and policing had been increased at several sites in the capital on Monday.

Dozens of youths were also gathering for new marches and had burnt tyres on the pavement.

As a precaution, foreign schools were closed on Monday morning, as well as some shops in the centre of Kinshasa.

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