KINSHASA (TIP): Rwandan and Congolese troops traded heavy weapons fire on June 12 in a second day of fighting on the border between the two neighbours which have been locked in a decades-long dispute. After the morning clashes abated, rival troops were engaged in a staredown from afar in the mountainous Kanyesheza region which straddles the border, a Congolese administrative official said on condition of anonymity.
An AFP reporter on a press trip to the area with the Rwandan army and foreign defence attaches said the combat zone — some 20 kilometres (12 miles) north of the border towns of Goma in the DRC and Gisenyi in Rwanda — was calm on Thursday afternoon. “There were heavy arms fire, explosions, rockets,” which lasted for half an hour, said a resident in the area of the morning clashes. Another resident on the Congolese side of the frontier said about “30 families” were fleeing the border regions after the fighting.
– Trading blame –
senior Congolese military officer said that Rwandan troops had attacked their positions, but a Rwandan military source, also speaking anonymously, told AFP that there had “not been serious clashes, they were sporadic firings” of heavy weapons. The latest cross-border clash came a day after the two sides exchanged automatic weapons fire, with each blaming the other for the outbreak of violence. Rwanda’s army on Thursday displayed five bodies to journalists which it said were Congolese soldiers killed in the fighting on Wednesday, an AFP reporter said.
Lambert Mende, a spokesman for the Congolese government, accused Rwanda of lying about the deaths of its soldiers. “Rwandans have taken corpses from hospitals, or killed poor peasants — perhaps Congolese, Rwandan maybe — just to back up their story,” he said. The DRC has said only one of its soldiers was killed. The Congolese army said the conflict started after one of its soldiers was kidnapped by Rwandan troops who crossed into its North Kivu province. However Rwanda said Congolese troops crossed into its territory and opened fire on Rwandan soldiers. “We are only seeking to reinforce our positions,” North Kivu governor Julien Paluku said.
A resident of a village on the road from Goma to Kanyesheza, said he saw mounted heavy machine-guns and three army tanks roll past on June 12 morning.Each side denied returning fire when shelled by the other.In an apparent sign of goodwill, the Rwandan and Congolese armies sent a team from a Joint Verification Mission (JVM) they have formed with the United Nations to carry out checks in the conflict zone, a JVM official who monitors the border said.
Both the JVM and a western military source confirmed the deaths of the five Congolese soldiers. No deaths were reported in Thursday’s fighting. Farhan Haq, a spokesman for the UN Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon, said diplomatic efforts were under way to “avoid unnecessary tension” and to encourage the DRC and Rwanda to “continue furthering good neighbourly relations.”
– Strained relations –
have been strained for decades between the neighbours, with the DRC accusing Rwanda of seeking to destabilise it by backing various militia which have risen up against Kinshasa.Much of the tension arises from the presence in the eastern DRC of Rwandan Hutu rebels in the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).This armed movement’s older members are accused of taking part in the 1994 genocide of ethnic Tutsis in Rwanda which left an estimated 800,000 dead in three months of slaughter.