U.S. calls for investigations into alleged Rwandan support for M23 rebels

The chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Senator Bob Menendez called for investigations into claims that the Rwandan government is supporting M23 rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In a brief statement released on Saturday, Menendez said he was “alarmed” by reports of Kigali supporting the group which is accused of inciting violence, attacking Congolese soldiers, United Nations peacekeepers and civilians.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez. /CFP

Menendez added that any individuals found aiding the group must be be held responsible and sanctioned.

The eastern part of the DR Congo has seen heavy fighting in recent days between the rebels and the Congolese army (FARDC) with Kinshasa accusing Kigali of backing the rebel movement.

The fighting has been described as the most sustained offensive by the rebels in about a decade.

The fighting saw rebels briefly capture Rumangabo base, a major military camp, in the Rutshuru area of North Kivu province but it was later retaken by the army. However, the director of Virunga National Park, Emmanuel de Merode, said the rebels are believed to control most of the neighboring area.

Relations between Kinshasa and Kigali have subsequently deteriorated with the DR Congo summoning Rwanda’s ambassador and suspending Rwandair flights to Congo in response to the allegations.

During a 2012-2013 rebellion by the M23 that briefly captured the city of Goma in North Kivu, Congolese and UN investigators also accused Kigali of supporting the rebels. Rwanda has denied any involvement with the group.

The leadership of the M23 rebel group is from the Tutsi ethnic group and has defended its attacks by arguing that it is fighting the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a militia created by ethnic Hutus who fled Rwanda after taking part in the 1994 genocide.

(Story compiled with assistance from wire reports)