KINSHASA (Reuters) - Democratic Republic of Congo’s government said on Saturday hundreds of rebels fighting its army in the east have been trained in Rwanda and Kinshasa accused its neighbor of “passivity” in dealing with the situation.
Rwanda’s foreign minister called the statements “regrettable” and said Kigali should not be used as a scapegoat for trouble in Congo.
Congo’s government spokesman Lambert Mende stopped short of accusing Kigali of directly backing the rebels but the charge by Congo’s government that rebels had received outside help will strain relations between the former foes.
“The actions carried out by M23 (rebels) are prepared in Rwanda ... The government of (Congo) denounces the passivity of the Rwandan authorities,” he said in a speech on state television.
Mende estimated the number of rebels trained in Rwanda at 200-300, about half the number of fighters estimated to be fighting government forces in the hills of North Kivu province, on the border with Rwanda.
Shortly after Mende’s statement, Louise Mushikiwabo, Rwanda’s foreign minister, posted several messages on Twitter.
“Regrettable that DRC has gone to media before we were to sign the joint verification taskforce report designed to sort fact from fiction,” she said in one.
“Rwanda should not be used as a scapegoat to distract and deflect attention away from DRC’s domestic problems,” she added.
The joint verification taskforce is a body set up by the two countries to jointly investigate such issues in eastern Congo.
Rwanda has a long history of meddling in Congo, repeatedly sending its powerful army into the much larger but chaotic neighbor’s territory ostensibly to hunt rebels who have been based there since the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
Rwandan forces have been involved in Congo’s two wars and the low-level conflicts that have simmered since they were officially over.
However the current reports of Congolese rebels receiving backing from within Rwanda come after three years of improved relations and cooperation between the two nations.
The latest fighting erupted two months ago when former rebels integrated into Congo’s army took to the hills again after President Joseph Kabila announced he wanted to arrest General Bosco Ntaganda, one of their commanders who is wanted by the International Criminal Court.
The fighting has displaced over 100,000 people so far.
Reporting by Jonny Hogg and Bienvenu Bakumanya; Additional reporting and writing by David Lewis; Editing by Jon Hemming