By Spy Uganda Correspondent
Tensions on Democratic Republic of Congo’s eastern front with neighboring Rwanda led Congo to hire private military groups — a move Rwanda said is an indication of war.
Congo hired a Bulgarian military company to work with the army in its restive east, President Felix Tshisekedi said in an interview during the World Economic Forum in Davos. The firm is one of two groups doing aircraft maintenance and training for the army, government spokesman Patrick Muyaya said Friday.
“The recruitment of foreign mercenaries by the DRC is a clear indication that the DRC is preparing for war, and not peace,” Rwanda’s government said in a statement.
Congo’s mineral-rich east — adjoining Rwanda — has been beset by conflict since the mid-1990s, when the aftermath of a civil war and genocide in Rwanda spread over the border enveloping more than a half-dozen African nations. Despite a 2003 peace agreement, fighting persists, with about 100 armed groups active in the region and more than 4 million people displaced due to conflict, according to the UN.
Over the past two decades neighboring states have fought proxy wars or pursued rebels in Congo, while the United Nations deployed one of its largest peace-keeping missions in the country. Congo’s army is currently fighting the M23 rebel group that the government says is backed by Rwanda — an allegation Rwanda’s government denies.
The private military company was hired to “reinforce the capacity of our army,” Tshisekedi said in the interview. The foreigners are providing Congo with “the strategies and techniques necessary to be able to overcome these terrorists who are poisoning our lives,” he said.
Tshisekedi said M23 hasn’t respected a Jan. 15 deadline to withdraw and allow a regional force from the East African Community or Congolese troops to occupy the territory. The rebel group says it’s fighting to protect the rights of Congolese of Rwandan origin.
War of Words
“Nothing at all has been done up until now. Nothing,” Tshisekedi said. “We’re at a standstill.”
Rwanda accused Congo of violating an ongoing peace process by continuing to back an armed group with links to the perpetrators of the 1994 genocide. It said it considered Congo’s alleged support for the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda and other “illegal armed groups” in eastern Congo to be be a threat to its security.
“Rwanda continues to bear the burden of hosting over 75,000 Congolese refugees, with more arriving daily due to continued insecurity and persecution in eastern DRC,” according to the statement.