Congo – Former rebels have blocked Congolese troops from reinforcing positions near its volatile border with Rwanda, after clashes between the two sides on Sunday, the region’s military chief said on Monday.
Col. Etienne Bindu, military chief of the North Kivu province, said the fighting had calmed by Monday between rival army units – one side made up of former rebels now part of the national army, and the other consisting of troops sent by President Joseph Kabila to counter threats from Rwanda.
The two sides, however, ‘are watching each other like cat and dog’ in the town of Kanyabayonga, the scene of the fighting, he said.
The reinforcements are part of previously announced plans to build to 10,000 Congolese troops in the restive eastern borderlands, in response to threats from Rwanda, its much tinier but military powerful neighbor.
Congo has accused Rwanda of launching incursions into its territory since November. Although Rwanda has neither confirmed nor denied the allegations, it recently threatened to invade Congo to attack Hutu rebels which it says played a role in the 1994 Rwandan genocide of over 500,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus.
Sunday’s clashes began when the troop reinforcements arrived in Kanyabayonga, meeting the opposition of the Congolese brigade based there, which is made up of former rebels from the Rwanda-backed Congolese Rally for Democracy.
That group and other guerrilla forces took part in a 1998-2002 war in Congo which drew in the troops of six nations, until a peace deal led to them being integrated into the national army.
Congo’s 1998-2002 was sparked by an invasion by Rwanda, also aimed at countering threats from Hutu rebels. The war killed over 3 million from violence, hunger and disease.