Rwanda said a fighter jet from the Democratic Republic of Congo violated its airspace Wednesday amid spiraling tensions between the neighbors over rebels advancing in the DRC’s volatile east.
The DRC has accused Rwanda of backing the M23 rebel group, which has captured swathes of territory from the Congolese army and allied militias in recent months.
Kigali has denied the allegations, which are also supported by UN experts as well as the United States, France, and Belgium.
It accuses Kinshasa of colluding with the FDLR — a former Rwandan Hutu rebel group based in the DRC.
“A Sukhoi-25 fighter jet from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) violated Rwandan airspace along Lake Kivu in the Western Province of Rwanda today at around” midday, the Rwandan government said in a statement.
The aircraft immediately returned to the DRC, the statement said, adding: “Rwandan authorities have once again protested to the DRC government against the violations of Rwandan airspace by DRC fighter jets.”
It comes less than two months after Kigali accused another DRC fighter jet of violating its airspace.
“The authorities in the DRC seem to be emboldened by consistent coddling by some in the international community who repeatedly heap blame on Rwanda for any and all ills in the DRC, while ignoring the transgressions originating from the DRC.
“These provocations must stop,” the statement said.
The fighting between Congolese troops and the M23, which has made advances towards Goma, the capital of DRC’s North Kivu province, has prompted the East African Community (EAC) bloc to deploy a joint regional force to quell the violence.
The rebels delivered the strategic town of Kibumba to an East African military force last week after heavy international pressure, saying it was a “goodwill gesture.”
But the Congolese army dismissed the withdrawal as a “sham” aimed at reinforcing the group’s positions elsewhere.
Despite Rwanda’s denials, a report by independent experts for the United Nations Security Council seen by AFP last week pointed to Kigali’s alleged support for the M23.
Rwanda deployed troops to fight alongside the rebels, and supplied them with weapons, ammunition, and uniforms, according to the report.
The M23, a mostly Congolese group, resumed fighting in late 2021 after lying dormant for years, accusing the DRC government of failing to honor an agreement to integrate its fighters into the army.