Rwanda, U.S., and France Enter Diplomatic Dispute Over Alleged Rwandan Support of DRC Rebels

Sébastien Gray
Sébastien Gray
Sébastien is a published journalist and historicist with over six years of experience in freelance journalism and research. His primary expertise is in African conflict and politics, with additional specialization in Israeli/Palestinian and Armenia/Azerbaijan conflicts. Sébastien serves as the deputy desk chief for Africa.

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What’s Happening

France has joined the list of countries and organization that have recently urged Rwanda to cease any and all alleged support for the M23 rebels in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

The French Foreign Ministry released a statement condemning “the ongoing Rwanda backed M23 offensive, as well as the presence of Rwandan forces on Congolese soil”, as well as calling upon Rwanda “to end all support for M23 and to withdraw from Congolese territory”.

The entire French Foreign Ministry statement may be read here.

Rwanda responded to the French accusations by saying that “no one knows more about the root causes and history of the conflict in eastern DRC than France”, before clarifying Rwanda’s “security position” on the eastern DRC.

Notably, the French Foreign Ministry also calls upon the DRC’s government to end cooperation with the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a militant group that operates within the eastern DRC that, in its origin, was comprised primarily of former genocidaires of the Rwandan genocide.

The US has also warned Rwanda several times recently to halt their support for the M23. On February 20th, the US stated that Rwanda and the DRC “must walk back from the brink of war” after tensions continue to rise between the two nations.

Claims and Denials

A number of different international entities have all accused Rwanda of supporting the M23 rebels. The accusations are nothing new, with nations like the US, UK, and the DRC itself accusing Rwanda of supporting the rebels when they launched their rebellion in 2012.

The support, however, has sharply escalated as of late. Not only is Rwanda accused of deploying troops to fight alongside the M23, but they are also accused of deploying advanced weapons systems in support of the M23.

Recently, the UN claimed that a Rwandan Surface to Air Missile System fired at one of their observation drones, within the DRC’s territory.

The deployment of such equipment marks a severe escalation as the rebels assault the town of Sake, threatening to cut off the North Kivu provincial capital city of Goma, a city of 2 million people.

Fighting has been ongoing around Sake for approximately two weeks. The M23 has vowed to “liberate” the town in order to “silence” heavy artillery and more weapons that they claim the DRC has been using to attack civilians.

Rwanda, and the M23, have continually denied that Rwanda supports the group. Rwanda claims that the DRC government attempts to use it as a scapegoat due to its inability to solve its own security issues.

Rwanda, in turn, accuses the DRC of working alongside the FDLR, an accusation which the DRC also denies.

Several UN reports have been released which detail not only Rwandan support for the M23, but also the DRC’s cooperation with the FDLR, a group which is openly hostile to Rwanda.

The Threat of War

Since the M23 launched a renewed offensive against the DRC government in 2021, tensions between Rwanda and the DRC have risen exponentially. As such, many are fearful of the threat of war between the two nations, who have gone to war against each other twice in the last 30 years.

The UN, and several individual nations, have urged restraint on both the DRC’s part and Rwanda’s part, and for adherence to several peace processes that have been established aimed at halting violence in the eastern DRC.

Rwandan Peacekeepers pictured in Mozambique (Photo from Jean Bizimana/Reuters).

Combat between the DRC and the M23 sparked up again on January 16th, after the DRC launched an attack upon the M23 with their new Southern African Development Community (SADC) allies, who had deployed to the nation a month prior.

The offensive appears to have not gone as planned, as the M23, with their alleged Rwandan allies, have successfully managed to capture large swathes of territory throughout North Kivu. According to the M23, however, these territorial acquisitions are merely “defensive manoeuvres” in order to “silence” artillery, tanks, and more that the M23 claims the DRC and SADC are using to attack civilians.

Presently, as stated, the M23 is threatening the key town of Sake. While the DRC has succeeded thus far in preventing the towns capture, it has successfully cut off travel on the last road to Goma that was under the DRC’s control, leaving the city rather vulnerable. Additionally, Sake is only 25km away from Goma.

Despite the threat that is posed to Goma, the M23 has insisted they do not intend on attacking or capturing the city, as they had in 2012, and almost did again in 2022.