The Senegalese head of state, Macky Sall, current chairman of the African Union (AU), said he was “gravely concerned” on Sunday, May 29, by the “rise in tension” between Rwanda and the Republic Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), urging the two countries “for calm and dialogue for the peaceful resolution of the crisis, with the support of regional mechanisms and the African Union”.

Rwanda said on Saturday that two of its soldiers were being held captive after their abduction by rebels in the DRC, accusing authorities there of supporting them. This statement comes after the DRC summoned the Rwandan ambassador and accused its neighbor of supporting the rebel group M23, active in its eastern region.

According to the Rwandan Defense Forces (RDF), its two soldiers were abducted while on patrol and are being held in eastern DRC by rebels from the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR). The Congolese army responded that it was holding the two wanted soldiers, according to a statement released on Sunday. “Contrary to statements by [Rwandan] officials, RDF soldiers are indeed operating on Congolese territory. As proof, the arrest by the population of Corporal Nkundabangezi Elysée and Private Minuare Gadi,” wrote Brigadier General Sylvain Ekenge.

Suspension des vols Rwand’Air

This incident follows an attack carried out earlier this week along the border by Congolese forces and FDLR rebels, according to the Rwandan army. Fighting between Congolese forces and the M23 erupted on multiple fronts this week in North Kivu, a war-torn eastern DRC province bordering Rwanda. Kinshasa claims that the M23 – a rebellion mostly made up of Congolese Tutsi, among around 100 armed groups operating in eastern DRC – is backed by Rwanda. Kigali denied any involvement.

On Saturday, the Congolese authorities decided to suspend the flights of the Rwand’Air company. On Sunday, however, the Congolese army announced the reopening of the strategic Rutshuru-Goma road axis after five days of traffic disruption due to fighting between the DRC Armed Forces and M23 rebels.

The DRC and Rwanda have maintained tense relations since the massive arrival in eastern Congo of Rwandan Hutus accused of having massacred Tutsi during the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. Kinshasa has regularly accused Rwanda of carrying out incursions on its territory and to support armed groups there. Relations had begun to thaw after the election of Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi in 2019, but the resurgence of M23 attacks has recently reignited bilateral tensions.