Rwandan police shot and killed a Congolese soldier who crossed the border and fired at security forces, Rwanda’s army said, as fighting intensified 50 km (30 miles) away between Congo’s military and rebels it says are backed by Rwanda.
The Central African neighbours have been locked in a diplomatic crisis since the M23 rebels launched a major offensive in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo last month.
Rwanda denies Congo’s allegations that it supports the guerrillas, whose leadership hails from the same Tutsi ethnic group as Rwandan President Paul Kagame, or that it has sent troops into eastern Congo.
As fighting picked up again between the rebels and Congo’s army on Friday, M23 fighters shot down a Congolese military helicopter, according to M23 spokesman Willy Ngoma and a Congolese army source.
The incident at the border took place earlier on Friday when a Congolese soldier crossed into Rwanda from the Congolese city of Goma and fired an AK-47 rifle at Rwandan security personnel and civilians, the Rwanda Defence Force (RDF) said.
Two Rwandan police officers were injured before an officer on duty fired back at the soldier, who was killed 25 metres inside Rwanda, an RDF statement said.
Congo’s government said it was monitoring the situation but did not provide details about the incident. It ordered the border with Rwanda closed each day at 3 p.m. from Friday on, several hours earlier than usual.
In Goma, about 50 km southwest of the main fighting, hundreds of people on foot and riding motorcycles trailed the ambulance carrying the soldier’s body while chanting “hero, hero”. Some shouted anti-Tutsi slogans and called Kagame an “assassin”.
Anti-Rwandan sentiment in Congo is widespread, a legacy of Rwanda’s two invasions of eastern Congo in the 1990s and continuing influence in the region. Rwanda says its actions have targeted ethnic Hutu militiamen responsible for the 1994 genocide of more than 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus.
The M23 is waging its most sustained offensive since capturing swathes of territory in eastern Congo in 2012-2013.
The group captured the town of Bunagana, on the border with Uganda, earlier this week and made further gains on Friday, taking the town of Tshengerero to the east and bringing down the army aircraft, its spokesman Ngoma said.
“The army fled and the helicopter started to bomb us. So we fired on it and we got it,” he said.
The head of a local civil society group and a Congolese officer confirmed Tshengerero’s capture.
In a statement, Congo’s government called on British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to pressure Rwanda to withdraw its troops from Congo ahead of a summit of the Commonwealth, which Kigali will host next week.
It also welcomed a Kenyan proposal to deploy a joint East African military force to eastern Congo, but said it would not accept Rwandan participation.
Rwanda’s government spokeswoman, Yolande Makolo, told reporters Rwanda would contribute troops to the regional force and called for dialogue with Congo.
Photo – M23 rebels are seen near Goma, eastern DR Congo. EPA/STR