The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) recently declared that Rwanda’s attack against a DRC fighter jet amounts to an act of war. While Rwanda has insisted that it reserves the right to take “defensive measures” against the aircraft as a result of it violating their airspace, the DRC denied this claim. While the plane itself ended up landing safely, the fact remains that this is a dangerous escalation between the two countries in the midst of the violence ongoing in the DRC.
The ongoing violence itself is rooted in the massive refugee crisis and the spillover of the Rwandan genocide in 1994, which led to armed groups in the eastern area of the DRC. As a result, from 1998 to 2003, the government forces of the DRC were supported by Angola, Namibia, and Zimbabwe in the Second Congo War against the rebels, who were in turn supported by Rwanda and Uganda. The war itself was the worst since World War II, with projected deaths in excess of 5 million. Even though a peace deal would result in 2002, which was followed by the creation of a transitional government, the violence in the region has continued and the March 23 Movement (M23) emerged as a significant rebel group in this period of time.
That being said, there was hope in the region that progress was being made recently, as M23 had agreed to a ceasefire and to withdraw from territory it had taken. Unfortunately this hope lasted only briefly, as violence soon broke out again. In fact, the DRC fighter jet was shot at just hours of the renewal of violence.
With this latest incident of violence caused by Rwanda, whom the DRC, United States, and United Nations experts accuse of providing backing to the M23 rebel group, there is escalating concern that the neighboring states might be headed towards a new conflict. President Kagame of Rwanda has denied these accusations, and has even accused that not enough attention is being directed against the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), which he accuses the DRC as supporting.
With so many concerned parties, and a desire by many to see the preventing of a new conflict breaking out between Rwanda and the DRC that might escalate into a Third Congo War, we can hope that calmer heads will prevail and that peace discussions might eventually have more success. Given the complicated nature of the situation in the eastern DRC, however, and its possible the violence will again get worse before it gets better.
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