Minister Biruta speaks out on circumstances that led to strained relations between Rwanda and DRC

On 27 January 2023 at 10:33

The Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Dr. Vincent Biruta has shed light on the root cause of violence against Kinyarwanda-speaking communities (Rwandophones) in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) that led to the resumption of fighting between Congolese Army (FARDC) and M23, prompting DRC to accuse Rwanda of backing the rebel group.

He was briefing parliamentarians on the state of relations with regional countries on Thursday 26th January 2023.

The fighting between FARDC and M23 resumed towards the end of 2021, nearly ten years after its defeat that saw some combatants fleeing to Rwanda while others fled to Uganda.

Despite the fact that combatants that resumed fighting were from the group that fled to Uganda, DR Congo continues to accuse Rwanda of supporting M23 in confrontations with FARDC.

The stubbornness to draw attention on the root cause of insecurity, has seen DRC sounding alarms several times demanding the international community to impose sanctions on Rwanda and excluded M23 from negotiations as recommended by regional processes to restore calm in the country.

As he addressed parliamentarians, Minister Biruta said that Congo has been overlooking the root cause of the problem and dragged Rwanda into its mess to dodge processes that would put an end to this issue.

Dr. Biruta asserted that the problem of Rwandophones takes roots shortly before colonization era when some parts of Rwanda were annexed to neighbouring countries.

“There are former territories of Rwanda that are currently annexed to DRC. This was resolved during a conference held in Brussels in Belgium on 2nd February 1910. It brought together Germany which colonized Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania; Belgium which colonized Congo and the United Kingdom which colonized Uganda and Kenya,” he said.

“The resolutions went into effect on 14th May 1910 where every colonist started controlling designated areas. They made the repartition in their own reasoning but their decision resulted in the presence of some Rwandans in Congo and others in Uganda,” added Dr. Biruta.

During colonization era, Belgium took some Rwandans to Congo for hard labour in farmlands and excavation of minerals.

During the violence between 1959 and 1973, Dr. Biruta disclosed, more Rwandans fled to Congo ‘but the majority repatriated after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi was stopped’.

After Congo obtained Independence, Minister Biruta said that Kinyarwanda-speaking communities experienced prolonged unrest where the country used them for political interests.

He explained that they were sometimes accepted as Congolese citizens or called foreigners.

Dr. Biruta told parliamentarians that the situation worsened after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi was stopped, when Interahamwe and soldiers of the former Rwandan army (EX-FAR) at the regime of President Habyarimana fled with their arms to Congo (former Zaire).

“Between 1994 and 1995, members of EX-FAR and Interahamwe resumed military activities and intensified training that refugee camps were turned into military bases […] It is important to recall attacks carried out by Interahamwe in early 1996. At the time, the commander of the defeated army, General Augustin Bizimungu established a stronghold in Rutshuru territory where he started exterminating Kinyarwanda-speaking Congolese from Tutsi ethnicity owing to harbored genocide ideology,” he said.

From 1996, Rwanda started receiving the first batch of refugees from Kinyarwanda-speaking communities in DRC who are still accommodated in the country over the neighbouring country’s reluctance to repatriate them.

Dr. Biruta said that this situation sparked the creation of armed groups to defend the rights of Rwandophones including RDC Goma which birthed CNDP that later became M23.

“Those who were being killed and persecuted, formed groups to protect themselves realizing that the government had abandoned them,” he said.

Members of EX-FAR and Interahamwe formed ALIR which changed names at different times to FDLR. However, it was also split into different groups including RUD Urunana and FLN among others. […] On 23rd March 2009, there were agreements to integrate CNDP combatants into FARDC and recognize CNDP as a legitimate political party in Congo.

“At the time, Congolese government acceded to the concerns of CNDP including the repatriation of people forced to flee by FDLR and other armed groups but did implement the agreements. It failed to repatriate refugees but continued to support FDLR, which continued to fuel killings,” he noted.

As M23 resumed fighting in 2021, Congolese government started accusing Rwanda and demanded the international community to impose sanctions against Rwanda.

Dr. Biruta has explained that such behaviors are meant to divert attention from the root cause of the problem.

“DRC has continuously raised accusations that combatants attack from Rwanda and tend to push them to Rwanda during their fighting with intentions to draw Rwanda into the war. They wanted to drag Rwanda into the war because FARDC fights along with FDLR, supplies them with weapons, ammunition and the situation still stands,” he disclosed.

Dr. Biruta expressed concern over DRC’s behaviors to overlook the issue of Rwandophones, and blaming Rwanda for its mess which the international community digests as it is.

“They say that they attacked from Rwanda yet it is apparent that those who fled to Rwanda are still in the country. That is how relations started deteriorating until the current situation,” he stated.

Minister Biruta stressed the need to address the problem from root causes and consider the reason why M23 is fighting. He added that finding a solution has to go hand in hand with the protection of Rwandophones’ rights.

Minister Biruta has said that DRC continues to overlook the problem of violence against Rwandophones.