Congo’s Leader Criticizes Rwanda Over Alleged Incursions, Rebel Support

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(Bloomberg) -- Democratic Republic of Congo’s President Felix Tshisekedi excoriated Rwanda for alleged incursions by its army and its support for a rebel group in his country’s eastern region in a wide-ranging speech at the United Nations General Assembly Tuesday.

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Tshisekedi cited a report by UN experts that accuses Rwanda of backing the M23 rebel group, which occupies a small part of eastern Congo. Rwanda denies links to the violence, which the UN says has led to the displacement of more than 170,000 people since November.

The president urged world leaders to read the experts’ report and “no longer trust the shameless denials of the Rwandan authorities.”

Eastern Congo has suffered decades of conflict since the 1990s, when violence from the aftermath of Rwanda’s civil war and genocide spread across the border, and recent tensions between the two neighbors have raised the risks of renewed fighting. More than 100 rebel groups are currently active in the region, which is rich in gold, tin, timber and other resources.

Read more: UN Group of Experts Say Rwanda Is Backing Rebels Fighting Congo

“Any honest observer in good faith recognizes that this crisis is caused mainly by the greed aroused by our fabulous natural resources and the power ambitions of some of our neighbors,” Tshisekedi said.

The M23’s leadership is largely made up of members of Congo’s Tutsi community, who say they are defending the interests of Rwandan-language speakers in the country and fighting Hutu rebel groups accused of bearing responsibility for the 1994 genocide. More than 800,000 people, most of them Tutsi, were killed at the time.

The Congolese army and UN peacekeepers defeated a previous M23 rebellion backed by Rwanda in 2013. The UN experts say the Rwandan Defence Force is again supporting the rebels and has launched multiple attacks on Congolese territory against the Hutu groups.

Tshisekedi denied allegations by Rwanda that the Congolese army has worked closely with one of the Hutu-led groups, known as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, or FDLR.

Kagame’s Reponse

The UN has had one of its biggest peacekeeping missions in Congo since the late 1990s and both Kagame and Tshisekedi criticized its effectiveness in their speeches. Tshisekedi said his government was reevaluating the UN’s gradual plan to withdraw from the country.

In his address to the assembly on Wednesday, Rwandan President Paul Kagame said the security situation in eastern DRC remains unchanged from two decades ago, and that neighboring states, especially his own, had been exposed to preventable cross-border attacks.

“There is an urgent need to find the political will to finally address the root causes of instability in eastern DRC,” he said. “The blame game does not solve the problems. These challenges are not insurmountable and solutions can be found.”

On the fight against climate change, Tshisekedi urged wealthy nations to support poorer countries.

‘Climate Justice’

“It’s time, on one hand, to put an end to the selective implementation of commitments made by polluters and, on the other hand, to compensate in the name of climate justice the efforts made by less polluting countries, including those in Africa, to preserve the environment for the benefit of our entire planet.”

Congo is the site of most of the Congo Basin rainforest, the second-largest in the world after the Amazon. Tshisekedi defended an ongoing call for bids for oil and gas blocks throughout the country.

“No international legal instrument or relevant document ratified by the DRC prohibits it from exploiting its natural resources for reasons of environmental protection or for fear of the aggravation of global warming,” he said. “Adequate strategies and measures have been adopted and taken to avoid negative impacts on the environment.”

Tshisekedi, who is currently president of the Southern African Development Community, echoed calls by Senegalese President Macky Sall, who chairs the African Union to eliminate sanctions against Zimbabwe. He also called for two non-permanent seats and two permanent seats for African countries on the UN Security Council.

“This is a question of justice that needs to be done for a continent or indeed for an entire swathe of humanity, whose role continues to increase every day in the conduct of international affairs,” he said.

(Adds Rwandan leader’s comments starting in second paragraph below Kagame’s response subheadline.)

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