East African leaders met in Kenya on Monday to discuss the security situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s violence-torn east.
The meeting comes as heavy fighting revives decades-old animosities between Kinshasa and Kigali, with the DRC blaming neighbouring Rwanda for the recent resurgence of the M23 militia.
Rwanda has repeatedly denied backing the rebels, while both countries have accused each other of carrying out cross-border shelling.
After weeks of sabre-rattling, the leaders of six of the seven nations in the East African Community (EAC) met in the Kenyan capital Nairobi to discuss the way forward.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame and DRC President Felix Tshisekedi joined the leaders of Burundi, Kenya, South Sudan and Uganda as well as Tanzania’s ambassador to Nairobi.
“The crisis in Congo need(s) a collective approach from all regional members of the East African Community,” Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said on Twitter after the meeting got under way.
“We must insist on working together because these people have suffered a lot,” said Museveni.
His government has sent in troops to help Congolese forces fight the Allied Democratic Forces, a militia group blamed for thousands of deaths in eastern Congo and a string of bombings in the Ugandan capital Kampala.
– Call for British pressure –
After M23 rebels captured the border town of Bunagana, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta called for the deployment of a regional EAC force in eastern DRC to restore peace, but Kinshasa said it would not accept Rwanda’s participation in the operation.
Tshisekedi has accused Rwanda of seeking “to occupy our land, rich in gold, coltan and cobalt, for their own exploitation and profit” and urged the international community to condemn Kigali.
He has urged Britain particular to “pressure Rwanda to withdraw its troops from our land”, noting London’s controversial agreement to send asylum seekers to Kigali.
“Given the UK’s recent $150 million immigration deal struck with Rwanda, we hope that Prime Minister Boris Johnson will be able to leverage his influence,” Tshisekedi said.
Rwanda is due to host the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting this week.
The mineral-rich DRC is struggling to contain dozens of armed groups in the east of the vast nation, many of which are a legacy of two regional wars a quarter of a century ago.
A primarily Congolese Tutsi militia, the M23 or “March 23 Movement” leapt to global prominence in 2012 when it captured Goma.
It was forced out shortly afterwards in a joint offensive by UN troops and the Congolese army.
The group took up arms again in late November, having accused the Kinshasa government of failing to respect a 2009 agreement that involved incorporating its fighters into the army.
Relations between Kinshasa and Kigali have been strained since the mass arrival in the DRC of Rwandan Hutus accused of slaughtering Tutsis during the 1994 Rwanda genocide.