Thousands protest against Rwanda in a city in eastern DR Congo

AFP journalists saw thousands of anti-Rwandan protesters march through the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo city of Goma on Monday as M23 rebels tightened control over the surrounding countryside.

The M23 group, made up primarily of Congolese Tutsis, resumed fighting in late 2021 after several years of inactivity, accusing the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo of not honoring an agreement to integrate its fighters into the army.

The group’s resurgence destabilized regional relations in Central Africa as the DRC accused its smaller neighbor Rwanda of supporting the militias.

The front line between the Congolese military and M23 was calm for several weeks, but new clashes on October 20 saw the militias move forward throughout North Kivu.

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In recent days, rebels have captured the cities of Kiwanja and Rutshuru along a strategic road leading to the provincial capital of Goma, which lies on the border with Rwanda.

On Saturday, the DRC government decided to expel the Rwandan ambassador. Rwanda stated that it took note of the decision “with regret”.

On Monday, thousands of people demonstrated against Rwanda in Goma, according to AFP journalists, where police used tear gas to disperse them from a border post with the country.

“We condemn the hypocrisy of the international community in the face of Rwandan aggression,” said Mambo Kawaya, a civil society representative who attended the demonstration.

Protesters chanted anti-Rwanda weapons as well as slogans hostile to Uganda, which some also accuse of supporting M23.

The rebel group first rose to prominence in 2012 when it briefly took over Goma before a joint Congolese-UN offensive pushed it out.

It is one of dozens of armed groups that roam the east of the DRC, many of which are the legacy of two regional wars that broke out at the end of the last century.

Despite official denials from Kigali, an unpublished report to the United Nations seen by AFP in August pointed to Rwanda’s involvement in M23.

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The same report says that M23 plans to capture Goma, an important trading center with a population of about a million people, in order to extract political concessions from the Congolese government.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame tweeted on Monday that he had a discussion with UN chief António Guterres on ways to de-escalate.