KINSHASA - The presence of Rwandan military forces in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo is an „open secret“, President Joseph Kabila has said on state television.
„As for Rwanda‘s presence, that is an open secret,“ Kabila said in his first comments on the issue late Saturday. In the rare public comments, Kabila said he had also questioned Uganda over its alleged support for the rebel M23 movement operating in the region, and that Kampala denied any involvement.
He advocated the deployment of a „neutral force“ as a buffer between warring sides as proposed at an African Union summit on July 15. Kabila added: „Can diplomacy be the answer? In any case there are three roads to a solution: military, political and diplomatic, or all three at the same time.“
Rwanda has persistently denied reports that it is backing the M23, formed in the DR Congo‘s eastern Nord-Kivu province in April. A report by the UN Group of Experts published in late June said M23 has been receiving direct aid from top Rwandan officials, including weapons, ammunition and recruits. The United States, The Netherlands and Germany have suspended all or part of their aid to Rwanda over the reports.
The M23 are Tutsi ex-rebels from the Rwanda-backed National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP). They were integrated into the regular army of the DR Congo in 2009 as part of a peace deal that followed their failed 2008 offensive on the Nord-Kivu capital Goma. But the ex-rebels mutinied in April, demanding better pay and the full implementation of the March 23, 2009, peace deal, and have been engaged in running battles with loyalist soldiers in Nord-Kivu.
On Saturday, fighting broke out near Kibumba, about 20 kilometres (12 miles) from Goma and described by a Western diplomat as the „last (government) stronghold“ before the regional capital. Early last week the rebels reached that point but were repelled by an army counter-attack backed up helicopter gunships and tanks. Helicopters of the UN peacekeeping mission in DR Congo, MONUSCO, fired on rebel positions Tuesday to protect civilians, a spokesman said. The army has fallen back in recent days because its tanks and helicopters ran out of ammunition, a Western source told AFP.