KIGALI (Reuters) - Rwandan President Paul Kagame called on neighboring Congo to take responsibility for a surge in rebel fighting rather than blame Kigali for stoking the violence, marking a sharp escalation in rhetoric between the former foes.
Kagame’s comments came after Congo accused officials in Rwanda of arming eastern rebels and diplomats said there was wrangling at the U.N. Security Council over a report believed to support the allegations of Rwandan interference.
Kagame said the latest fighting should not be seen as a problem between Congo and Rwanda, but an internal matter between “the different shades of Congolese”.
“And you Congolese, don’t run away from your responsibilities and start claiming that this is our problem,” Kagame told a news conference in Kigali on Tuesday.
“For us, we’re only in to be a part of a solution.”
Kigali has repeatedly intervened in Congo’s conflicts since Hutu extremists fled there after the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Rwanda has cited the need to hunt down those rebels but has been accused of acting to protect its economic interests in the mineral-rich zone.
The resurgence of violence in Congo’s North Kivu province and exchange of accusations come after several years of relative peace and a thaw in ties between the former arch foes.
The U.N. Security Council has called for a full probe into “credible reports of outside support” for the dissident troops, who deserted from Congo’s army two months ago, many in support of a wanted renegade general, Bosco Ntaganda.
Congolese government spokesman Lambert Mende said he was “astonished” by the timing of Kagame’s remarks, which coincided with the two countries’ foreign ministers signing a joint statement of cooperation in the Congolese capital, Kinshasa, on Tuesday.
“We don’t deny that we have internal problems, but we say that these problems are being fed by someone in Rwanda.”
The U.N. panel of experts on Congo is due to publish an interim report soon that international diplomats say appears to have information backing up reports of rebels receiving support from Rwanda.
Mende told Reuters on Monday that Rwanda and its allies on the Security Council, including Washington, were trying to block the report.
“I think (the report) confirms everything that has been said. I don’t think the Rwandans are at all happy that it should be officially endorsed by the U.N,” he said. Washington was not immediately available for comment.
Both Rwanda and the rebels have repeatedly denied that rebels, known as M23, are receiving cross-border support. U.S. officials were not immediately available for comment.
Ntaganda, nicknamed “The Terminator” is facing International Criminal Court (ICC) war crimes charges linked to earlier Congo conflicts.
Fighting erupted when Congo said it would arrest Ntaganda. But the rebels say they have taken up arms as a 2009 Rwandan-brokered deal has not been implemented.
Kagame said Kigali had tried to help end Congo’s woes but the fresh conflict was due to Kinshasa’s inability to resolve underlying problems. “You are holding (Ntaganda) accountable and turning the whole of the eastern Congo population upside down and messing it up and opening up the old wounds.”
“On the one hand you want Rwanda to be helpful, on the other you want to put all the blame on our shoulders ... We will offload all these problems that have been heaped on our shoulders,” he said.
On Monday the president of the political wing of the CNDP - the former Congolese rebel group that was led by Ntaganda - said he had received death threats from Rwandan generals after refusing to pull out of president Joseph Kabila’s ruling coalition in support of the mutiny.
“I was called from Rwanda by certain generals and they told me if I talked they would kill me. During one month, all day and all night they were harassing me ... I know their voices,” Senator Edouard Mwangacucu told Reuters from Kinshasa.
Additional reporting by Jonny Hogg in Kinshasa; Writing by Richard Lough, David Lewis and Bate Felix