Rwanda has demanded that its soldiers reportedly kidnapped on Monday by the Congolese army be released.
The Congolese Army (FADRC) on Monday launched an offensive against M23 rebels after the militia apparently attacked soldiers as well as UN peacekeepers.
During the offensive, Rwanda claimed DRC hurled rockets on its territory, describing the act as provocative.
Restating similar claims, Rwanda in a statement by the army (RDF) on Saturday revealed that during the offensive by Congo, two of its soldiers were kidnapped.
“Following the provocative aggression by FARDC on 23 May 22, where multiple rockets were fired on Rwandan territory, FARDC with FDLR attacked RDF along our border, and two Rwanda Defence Force soldiers were kidnapped while on patrol,” reads a statement by RDF in part.
The army has identified the soldiers as Cpl Nkundabagenzi Elysee and Pte Ntwari Gad who are “being held by FDLR in Eastern DRC.”
“We call upon authorities of the Democratic Republic of Congo that work closely with these genocidal armed groups to secure the release of the RDF soldiers,” adds the statement.
This week has seen the Armed forces of the DRC fight with the M23 soldiers on several fronts in North Kivu, a conflict-torn eastern province of DRC, which borders Rwanda. Congo on Wednesday accused Kigali of backing the militia.
“Suspicions are crystallising that the M23 has received support from Rwanda,” Congolese government spokesman, Patrick Muyaya stated on Wednesday evening, after a crisis meeting with the Prime Minister.
Foreign Affairs Minister Christophe Lutundula also accused Rwanda of backing the M23 and said the militia had attacked Rumangabo army camp, about 40 kilometres (25 miles) north of Goma.
“This is the height of brazenness, we cannot remain indifferent, we cannot say nothing,” he told delegates at an African Union meeting in Equatorial Guinea on Wednesday.
But Rwandan has denied involvement. Government spokeswoman Yolande Makolo said the country has “no intention of being drawn into an internal matter of the DRC”.
Primarily a Congolese Tutsi group, M23 is one of more than 120 armed groups that roam eastern DRC.
It briefly captured North Kivu’s provincial capital Goma in late 2012, before the army quelled the rebellion the following year.
But M23 resumed fighting this year, accusing the Congolese government of failing to respect a 2009 agreement under which its fighters were to be incorporated into the army.
On Saturday, the DRC barred RwandAir from its airspace.
Patrick Muyaya, the spokesman for the Congolese government, announced that DRC has “immediately” suspended the flights, adding that a “stern warning is given to the Government of Rwanda” over its alleged involvement in the conflict in North Kivu, eastern DRC.
DRC and Rwanda have had a strained relationship since the mass arrival in the republic of Rwandan Hutus accused of slaughtering Tutsis during the 1994 Rwanda genocide.
Kinshasa has regularly accused Rwanda of carrying out incursions into its territory and of backing armed groups there.
Relations had begun to thaw after DRC President Felix Tshisekedi took office in 2019, but the recent resurgence of M23 violence has reignited tensions.