US condemns DRC violence; urges Rwandan withdrawal

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The recent surge in violence in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has sparked international concern, with the United States issuing a strong condemnation of the actions of the Rwanda-backed, US- and UN-sanctioned M23 armed group.

In a press statement released early Sunday evening (18 February), the US Department of State spokesperson Matthew Miller highlighted the urgent need for de-escalation and accountability in the region.

“The United States strongly condemns the worsening violence in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) caused by the actions of the Rwanda-backed, US- and UN-sanctioned M23 armed group,” stated Miller. He emphasized the detrimental impact of M23’s recent incursions into the town of Sake, further exacerbating the plight of millions already facing displacement, deprivation, and attacks.

According to Miller, “It is essential that all states respect each other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and hold accountable all actors for human rights abuses in the conflict in eastern DRC.”

The escalating conflict in the DRC has taken a concerning turn with reports of Rwanda’s army firing surface-to-air missiles in the eastern DRC, as revealed in an internal UN document. A “suspected Rwandan Defense Force (RDF) mobile Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM)” was fired at a UN Falco Evo observation drone, indicating an escalation of conventional force conflict in the eastern DRC.

“We call on M23 to immediately cease hostilities and withdraw from its current positions around Sake and Goma, in accordance with the Luanda and Nairobi processes. The United States condemns Rwanda’s support for the M23 armed group and calls on Rwanda to immediately withdraw all Rwanda Defensc Force personnel from the DRC and remove its surface-to-air missile systems,” said Miller.

He called on the government of the DRC to continue supporting confidence-building measures and cease cooperation with armed groups like the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), which pose a threat to civilian populations.

On Saturday, the DRC accused Rwanda of carrying out a drone attack which damaged a civilian aircraft at the airport in Goma. “It had obviously come from the Rwandan territory, violating the territorial integrity of the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” Lieutenant-Colonel Guillaume Ndjike Kaito said in a video broadcast.

As recently as last December, a US Institute of Peace expert explained the intricate security dynamics of the eastern DRC, and emphasized the necessity of a sustained, inclusive political dialogue to pave the way for enduring peace. The expert underscored to defenceWeb the pivotal role of religious figures and Congolese civil society in advancing reconciliation efforts. Furthermore, to alleviate tensions between DRC and Rwanda, the expert highlighted the imperative of prioritising political discourse over purely military solutions, recognising that historical conflict cycles in the region have demonstrated the limitations of such approaches.

Pearl Matibe is a Washington, DC-based foreign correspondent, and media commentator with expertise on US foreign policy and international security. You may follow her on Twitter: @PearlMatibe