Published: 12:42, February 20, 2024 | Updated: 18:04, February 20, 2024
Rwanda questions US credibility in mediating peace in DRC
By Xinhua

Residents flee fighting between M23 rebels and Congolese forces near Kibumba, some 20 km from North of Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo, on Oct 29, 2022. (PHOTO / AP)

KIGALI - Rwanda has said that it questions "the ability of the United States to serve as a credible mediator in the Great Lakes Region."

The Rwandan Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation said on Sunday that a statement issued by the US Department of State the previous day "fundamentally distorts" realities on the conflicts in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

The US statement "stands in puzzling contradiction with the substance and tone of the confidence-building process initiated by the US Director of National Intelligence in November 2023, which created a productive framework for de-escalation," the Rwandan foreign ministry statement said.

Rwanda, in its statement on Sunday, said it considers the FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda) as a terrorist group whose elements are linked to the 1994 genocide, when about 1 million people, mostly of the Tutsi community and moderate Hutus, were killed by Hutu extremists in a span of 100 days

"Rwanda will seek clarification from the US government to ascertain whether its statement represents an abrupt shift in policy, or simply a lack of internal coordination," the statement said.

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The Rwandan foreign ministry was responding to a US State Department statement on Saturday that "strongly condemns the worsening violence in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) caused by the actions of the Rwanda-backed, US- and UN-sanctioned M23 armed group, including its recent incursions into the town of Sake."

"This escalation has increased the risk to millions of people already exposed to human rights abuses including displacement, deprivation, and attacks," the US statement said. "We call on M23 to immediately cease hostilities and withdraw from its current positions around Sake and Goma and in accordance with the Luanda and Nairobi processes."

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Goma is the capital of the DRC's North Kivu Province.

"The United States condemns Rwanda's support for the M23 armed group and calls on Rwanda to immediately withdraw all Rwanda Defense Force personnel from the DRC and remove its surface-to-air missile systems, which threaten the lives of civilians, UN and other regional peacekeepers, humanitarian actors, and commercial flights in the eastern DRC," the State Department statement said.

"We call on the government of the DRC to continue to support confidence-building measures, including ceasing cooperation with the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), an armed group named as a 'negative force' by regional bodies and the government of the DRC, and which exposes the civilian population to risk," the US statement added.

Rwanda, in its statement on Sunday, said it considers the FDLR as a terrorist group whose elements are linked to the 1994 genocide, when about 1 million people, mostly of the Tutsi community and moderate Hutus, were killed by Hutu extremists in a span of 100 days.

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"It was the US Department of State which in December 2001 added FDLR -- then known as 'ALIR a.k.a. Interahamwe, ex-FAR' -- to the Terrorist Exclusion List under the provisions of the Patriot Act, after the group murdered, and in some cases raped, eight Western tourists in Bwindi, Uganda, including two Americans," the Rwandan foreign ministry statement said.

"To characterize this genocidal and terrorist outfit merely as 'an armed group named as a 'negative force' by regional bodies and the government of the DRC' is a shocking and cynical act of realpolitik, which calls into question the ability of the United States to serve as a credible mediator in the Great Lakes Region," the statement said.

Rwanda, which has consistently denied accusations that it supports M23 rebels, said the US statement "fundamentally distorts realities" in relation to the conflict in the eastern DRC.

It said that ensuring FDLR demobilization and repatriation to Rwanda is "a non-negotiable requirement to protect Rwanda's territorial integrity."

Since the first week of this month, amid mass displacements, 15 civilians have been killed and 29 injured following fresh fighting around Goma and Sake town, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said last week. About 135,000 internally displaced persons have fled Sake town to Goma.