US Department of State Acknowledges Rwandan Support of M23 Rebels

What You Need to Know: 

A press statement released on Saturday by the US Department of State titled, ‘Escalation of Hostilities in Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo” by Spokesman Matthew Miller, recognizes Rwanda’s role in backing the March 23 Rebels (M23). 

“The United States strongly condemns the worsening violence in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) caused by the actions of the Rwanda-backed, U.S.- 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.  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.  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 eastern DRC.”

The statement comes as a UN internal document claimed that mobile surface-to-air missile systems, likely originating from Rwanda, were spotted in the nation’s east. Additionally, rebels announced last week their intention to ‘liberate’ sake, a town just 15 miles from Goma, the regional capital of North Kivu Province. 

Increased fighting around sake has cut off the last remaining road leading to Goma, creating a logistical nightmare for Government troops attempting to reach the besieged town. 

The History:

As previously reported, The March 23 movement, also known as the M23 rebels, predominantly consists of ethnic Tutsis, a large ethnic group in the African Great Lakes region. Tutsis are Rwanda’s second largest ethnic group, and because of this, the DRC claims that M23 is backed by the Rwandan Government– something officials in Kigali continue to deny. 

North Kivu Province, in the DRC’s east, is particularly under threat from the group, with M23 making large gains in recent weeks, there are fears that the province’s capital, Goma could be captured. 

However, M23 claims that they do not intend to take Goma, but are instead undertaking ‘defensive maneuvers.’ Nonetheless, swaths of civilians have been displaced due to the continued fighting, with the number of internally displaced reaching the tens of thousands. 

Peace talks have continuously broken down between the Felix Tshisekedi Government in Kinshasa and the group, with Tshisekedi’s Communication Minister stating to the BBC, “One thing must be clear is that we as government, we will never negotiate with M23. M23 doesn’t exist. It’s Rwanda acting with its puppet.” 

So, What Now?:

The Department of States’ press release ends with “it is essential that all states respect each other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and hold accountable all actors for human rights abuses in the conflict in eastern DRC. 

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.  We continue to support regional diplomatic efforts that promote de-escalation and create the conditions for lasting peace in DRC and we call on all sides to participate constructively in reaching a negotiated solution.” 

The recent escalation of hostilities in the region has had catastrophic consequences for the civilian population, leading to the internal displacement of tens of thousands men, women and children. Adding to the issue, is the ill-equipped intervention force led by South Africa, with limited airpower and even less manpower, it is unlikely the intervention force will make any meaningful gains against M23 in the coming months. 

Bianca Bridger
Bianca Bridger
Bianca Bridger is a Political Science Graduate from the University of Otago, New Zealand. Currently working as an Editor for The ModernInsurgent and writing for Atlas News, her interests include conflict politics, history, yoga and meditation.

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