France says Rwanda must end support for M23 rebels in DR Congo

By Melissa Chemam with RFI
FEB 21, 2024 LISTEN

France has called on Rwanda to end all support for M23 rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo and to pull its troops out of the country. This comes on the heels of demonstrations in the eastern city of Goma against both Rwanda and its Western allies.

Fighting between the mostly Tutsi M23 rebellion and Congolese government forces has flared in recent days around the town of Sake, 20 kilometres from Goma in North Kivu province.

The DRC, the UN and some Western countries have been saying for months that Rwanda is supporting the M23 rebels in a bid to control vast mineral resources, an allegation Kigali denies.

France's foreign ministry called on Rwanda to cease all support to the M23 and to withdraw from Congolese territory.  

"M23 must cease fighting immediately and withdraw from all areas it occupies," it added.

Flag burning

Meanwhile, dozens of demonstrators turned out on Monday, some draped in the DRC flag with red bands around their heads, trampling on the flags of the United States, the European Union (EU), France and Poland.

"These are the flags of countries complicit with Rwanda," organisers said.

"They are the ones financing our enemies," Patrick Ricky Paluku, of the Veranda Mutsanga pressure group told RFI, referring in particular to EU investment programmes for Kigali.

"We are in the street to denounce the crimes of which the Congolese are victims," Espoir Mwinuka, an activist with the Lucha (Struggle for Change) movement, told the French news agency AFP.

"Rwanda kills us every day and is supported by the international community, which is why we burned these flags", he added.

They carried placards, reading: "Stop the massacres in the DRC", "France = M23/Rwanda", "To be silent is to be an accomplice".

The demonstrators, mainly young men, marched from the city centre to the road leading to Sake before turning back.

The demonstration was banned by Goma's city hall but took place peacefully, with no clashes between police and army forces.   

Fear of war

Dozens of soldiers and civilians have reportedly been killed or wounded in the latest fighting, which has pushed tens of thousands of civilians towards Goma.

On Saturday, the Congolese army accused Rwanda of using "drones" to attack Goma airport.

In response, Rwandan authorities published a statement on Sunday, and denounced a real threat to its security. It said that the country is ready to take all measures to defend itself.

The conflict has disrupted food supplies to Goma, affecting more than two million residents and displaced individuals, forcing thousands to seek refuge in the city.

The use of heavy artillery and shelling has killed dozens. Hospitals in Goma have struggled to cope with the influx of injured civilians.

The United Nations and other aid agencies have warned that the fighting risks worsening the humanitarian crisis in the eastern Congo region, where more than 5 million people have been displaced in the four provinces of the region due to conflicts.

The United States is urging calm on both sides, while the Angolan President Joao Lourenço as been appointed as a mediator by the African Union (AU).

A meeting is also being prepared in Luanda to continue the discussions started at the AU summit in Addis Ababa.

Long-term tensions

Militias have plagued the eastern DRC for decades, a legacy of regional wars fought in the 1990s and the early 2000s.

After years of dormancy, the M23 (March 23 Movement) took up arms again in late 2021 and has since seized vast swathes of Nord Kivu province.

The M23 rebels claim to defend ethnic Tutsi interests against Hutu militias whose leaders orchestrated the 1994 Rwandan genocide of more than 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

(with newswires)