Blinken arrives in DR Congo on 2nd leg of African tour

AFP , Tuesday 9 Aug 2022

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in DR Congo on Tuesday for a one-day visit expected to focus on a conflict in the east of the country that has sparked tensions with Rwanda.

Antony Blinken
Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrives at N Djili International Airport in Kinshasa, Congo, Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2022. AP


Blinken, on the second leg of an African tour, was met at Kinshasa's Ndjili Airport by Foreign Minister Christophe Lutundula, the president's office said.

He and President Felix Tshisekedi will have a "one-on-one" meeting at the presidential palace in the evening, it said in a statement.

The Democratic Republic of Congo is seeking international support as it tussles with neighbouring Rwanda over an armed group, the M23, in the country's deeply troubled east.

The DRC accuses Rwanda of backing the rebels, an assertion repeatedly denied by Kigali, which Blinken will visit immediately after his one-day stay in Kinshasa.

Tshisekedi "will not fail to raise the questions of strategic partnership between the DRC and the USA", the presidential office said in a statement on Monday.

Blinken arrived from South Africa, where he said the United States was seeking a "true partnership" with Africa and was not vying with other powers for influence on the continent.

The M23, for "March 23 Movement", is a primarily Congolese Tutsi group.

It first leapt to prominence in 2012 when it briefly captured the eastern DRC city of Goma before a joint Congolese-UN offensive drove it out.

After lying mostly dormant for years, the rebel group resumed fighting late last year, seizing the strategic town of Bunagana on the Ugandan border in June and prompting thousands of people to flee their homes.

Kinshasa and Kigali have had strained relations since the mass influx of Rwandan Hutus accused of slaughtering Tutsis during the 1994 Rwanda genocide.

Relations began to thaw after Tshisekedi took office in 2019 but the M23's resurgence has revived tensions.

Rwanda and M23 

On the eve of Blinken's swing through the DRC and Rwanda, Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged him to condemn the M23 attacks and press Rwanda on its rights record, which included a "brutal" crackdown on dissent.

"As in 2012, the M23 are committing war crimes against civilians," HRW said in a press release.

"Witnesses described summary killings of at least 29 people, including children, in June and July... The US should raise with Rwanda the reliable reports that it is again supporting the M23's abusive conduct in eastern Congo."

In a 131-page report to the UN Security Council seen last week by AFP, experts said Rwandan troops had intervened militarily inside the DRC since at least November.

Rwanda also "provided troop reinforcements" for specific M23 operations, the experts' report said, "in particular when these aimed at seizing strategic towns and areas".

The M23 is just one of scores of armed groups that roam eastern DRC, many of them a legacy of two regional wars that flared late last century.

One of the bloodiest militias is the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), an organisation that the Islamic State group describes as its "Central Africa Province" affiliate.

The State Department placed the ADF on its list of IS-linked "terrorist" organisations in March 2021.

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