Congo official: Rwanda will have war if it wants war

Congo official: Rwanda will have war if it wants war

GOMA, Congo (AP) – If Rwanda wants war with neighboring Congo, “it will have war,” a senior Congolese military official told thousands in eastern Congo on Wednesday, protesting the recent capture of a nearby town by rebels.

General Sylvain Ekenge, spokesman for the military governor of North Kivu province, made the inflammatory comments to protesters in the city of Goma before urging them to demonstrate peacefully.

“Rwanda doesn’t like us. We are not afraid of it and we will fight against it,” said Ekenge. “If it wants war, it will have war,” he said, adding, “Nobody will occupy a single inch of our territory.”

The escalating tensions come after the M23 rebel movement captured Bunagana, a key town in eastern Congo, on Monday.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta on Wednesday called for the activation of the newly created East African Regional Force for eastern Congo, noting with concern the “open hostilities” there.

Kenyatta, leader of the East African Community, said Sunday’s meeting of regional commanders should be used to finalize preparations for immediate deployment in North and South Kivu and Ituri provinces.

He called for a cessation of hostilities and for the three provinces to be declared a “gun-free zone” in which all persons outside the mandated armed forces would be disarmed.

An official with the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo, known as MONUSCO, said Wednesday he could not confirm whether Rwandan or Ugandan forces helped the M23 rebel movement capture Bunagana.

“MONUSCO was unable to verify these claims by its own means,” said Lt. Frederic Harvey, the mission’s chief of liaison with the Congolese army, during a weekly news conference.

Rwanda and Uganda have denied supporting the M23 rebel movement for years. Many of the M23 fighters are Congolese ethnic Tutsi and Rwanda’s President is of Rwandan Tutsi descent. For its part, M23 has accused Congolese officials of inciting xenophobia.

Rwanda’s government, meanwhile, has accused Congolese forces of injuring several civilians in cross-border bombing raids. On Tuesday, a government statement said the Rwandan military “will continue to seek guarantees that cross-border attacks on Rwanda’s territory will be stopped.”

The M23 rose to prominence about a decade ago when its fighters captured Goma, the largest city in eastern Congo that borders Rwanda. The rebels were driven out of Goma and after a peace deal, many of the M23 fighters were integrated into Congo’s national military.

But earlier this year, the rebels made a comeback and launched an offensive against the Congolese military after saying the government had failed in its decades-old promises.

On Wednesday, protesters in Goma called on the international community to intervene amid rising tensions.

“We cannot accept being attacked by neighboring countries,” said Jack Sinzahera, who was among the protesters in Goma. “That is why today there is a popular mobilization to say no to the aggression of Rwanda and Uganda in our country.”

The demonstration was peaceful, although police later fired tear gas at some protesters trying to march to the border post separating Congo from Rwanda.

Relations between Rwanda and Congo have been strained for decades. Rwanda claims Congo provided refuge to the ethnic Hutus who committed the 1994 Rwandan genocide that killed at least 800,000 ethnic Tutsi and moderate Hutus. The two countries have long accused each other of supporting various rival armed groups.

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Associated Press writer Jean-Yves Kamale in Kinshasa, Congo contributed.