The Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) top defense body ordered the government on Thursday to suspend all treaties and close borders with East African neighbor Rwanda amid simmering tensions over its alleged support for M23 rebels.
After a meeting of the Supreme Council of Defense chaired by President Felix Tshisekedi, government spokesman Patrick Muyaya said the government was urged to “suspend all memoranda of understanding, agreements and conventions concluded with Rwanda,” citing the Kigali’s backing of the rebels fighting government forces in the eastern DRC.
Rwanda did not immediately respond to the move.
The two countries signed three bilateral agreements in a meeting last year between Tshisekedi and Rwandan President Paul Kagame in Goma, the capital of the North Kivu province in the northeastern DRC.
Investment and taxation were in the focus of the accords, as was the establishment of a Congolese gold refinery in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital.
Spokesman Muyaya said the council had also urged Rwanda to “proceed with the immediate withdrawal of its troops from Congolese soil under the cover of the M23 terrorist group.”
The Congolese army reported last week that Rwanda had moved 500 soldiers into the country’s east, a claim that Kigali has denied.
Following the rebels’ capture of Bunagana, a key border town with Uganda, the DRC’s army accused Rwanda of “violating our frontier and territorial integrity.”
Since fighting intensified in recent weeks, the DRC has openly accused Rwanda of supporting the M23 rebels active in that area.
Both countries have accused the other of cross-border rocket attacks, while the DRC stopped RwandAir flights to the country last month amid the rising tensions.
For several weeks, pro-army demonstrations were organized in the DRC, with protesters demanding their country sever diplomatic relations with Rwanda.
On Wednesday, protestors stormed the shared western border with Rwanda and tried to force their way into the country, pushing metallic bars across the border before they were forced back by security forces.
Local media had reported that some protestors gathered in front of the Foreign Ministry in the country’s capital Kinshasa on Tuesday to demand the expulsion of Rwandan Ambassador Vincent Karega, who was recently summoned to explain his country’s alleged support for the M23 rebels.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, who is also the chairperson of the East African Community (EAC), announced on Wednesday the activation of the East African regional force under the auspices of the bloc, which includes both countries, to be deployed in the DRC.
Kenyatta, who asked for all armed groups to immediately end hostilities and lay down their arms, said a meeting of the regional commanders of the respective defense forces on June 19 in Nairobi would finalize preparations for the deployment.
According to a communique, the regional force would be deployed immediately in the northeastern Ituri, North Kivu, and South Kivu provinces to stabilize the region and enforce peace in support of DRC forces and in close coordination with the UN mission in Congo, MONUSCO.
Relations between the DRC and Rwanda appeared to normalize after Tshisekedi took office in early 2019, but the resurgence of the M23 rebel group has revived tensions.
According to the UN Refugee Agency, the latest intense conflict in the country’s North Kivu province has displaced at least 123,000 people, with 8,000 fleeing to Uganda.