President Paul Kagame has denied allegations of Rwandan troops operating in eastern DR Congo, and instead accused Burundi of having government troops there.
Since mid March, Congolese opposition politicians and civil society groups have claimed Rwandan troops are in Rutshuru territory of North Kivu province, leading operations against Rwandan FDLR rebels. At the same time, as inter communal fighting has raged in South Kivu since late 2018, there have been repeated allegations of presence of Rwandan troops.
There are different Rwandan militias in both Kivus. In the North, there is FDLR and RUD-Urunana, as well as other breakaway factions. As for the South, there is P5, FLN and other obscure groups. Rwanda accuses Burundi and Uganda of supporting these Rwandan groups with recruits, safe passage and money.
In South Kivu still, there are Burundian RED-TABARA rebels fighting to remove the government of Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza. Burundi accuses Rwanda of backing these rebels.
As a result, the geopolitical battles between Rwanda against Uganda, and Rwanda against Burundi, are said to be playing out in South Kivu region.
In a 14-minute response to question about recent information, also carried in international media, of Rwanda Defense Forces (RDF) in eastern Congo, President Kagame divided his explanation into two parts.
First, he began with South Kivu, which he said: “There’s not a single RDF soldier in that territory. I say it with authority.”
Instead, Kagame added: “Our intelligence connection actually tells us we have forces from Burundi, government forces operating from the region.”
Without naming particulars, but in seeming reference to the UN mission MONUSCO, Kagame said the “experts” were the ones spreading “lies” and “rumours” of RDF presence to hide their own failures yet have been there for more than two decades.
“It’s a cocktail, it’s a mess,” said Kagame of the region, adding sarcastically that people may be “deliberately confusing” FDLR and other Rwandan rebel groups with RDF government forces: “FDLR and RDF are two different things.”
Kagame said: “Some NGOs and journalists are able to see battalions and all kinds of things. The government of DRC knows that not a single RDF soldier is there. I don’t know what MONUSCO says or anyone else wants to say. So please, take it from me that there is not a single soldier in that part of the world.”
As for North Kivu, Kagame said Rwanda has only been providing “information” about FDLR and other groups to DRC Govt, which has in turn conducted military offensives.
Kagame said FDLR attack which killed rangers of the DRC’s Virunga park this past weekend is not talked about or reported in media, instead a “monster” has been created of Rwanda.
Kagame also repeated his attack on the UN forces who he said are not dealing with armed groups yet they are there purposely for that.
“Everything comes to be summarized as Rwanda getting involved in DRC. That is the answer that is raised for every problem,” he said.
The press conference was like no other. While Kagame sat in his office, journalists were away and linked via video link. Nearly 80% of the questions were about the government’s measures in response to COVID-19 pandemic.
Kagame declined to give definitive answer as ro whether the current lockdown due to end on April 30, since March 14, will be lifted. Instead, he said cabinet will decide on the way forward putting into consideration the need to return to normalcy, but also ensure the virus doesn’t spread again.