BUKAVU, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) - A soldier from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been killed in a border skirmish with Rwandan troops, military officials from both countries said on Sunday.
Tension has risen between Rwanda and the DRC this year over allegations by Kinshasa, denied by Kigali, that Rwanda is backing a rebellion in its vast and unstable neighbour.
“There was an incident on Saturday afternoon between a Congolese soldier and a Rwandan soldier,” Colonel Olivier Hamuli, a Congolese army spokesman said.
“The Congolese soldier was killed ... It happened right along the border,” he said of the incident near Kibumba, 13 km (8 miles) north of Goma, the capital of North Kivu province.
Rwandan military spokesman Brigadier General Joseph Nzabamwita said soldiers from Congo’s armed forces (FADRC) had crossed the border on a reconnaissance mission. One was killed in a clash with Rwandan troops and one escaped, he said.
“This is a provocative act of the FARDC. They want to draw Rwanda into their internal problems but Rwanda has always said we will not escalate the problem,” Nzabamwita said.
“There will be no action from Rwanda. The action we are taking is diplomatic. We are trying to show the diplomatic community these are provocative actions and we are being drawn into the problem,” he said in a statement.
Military sources told Reuters a team from the Joint Verification Mechanism, a regional body created to investigate incidents between the two countries, was looking into the clash.
Rwanda and Congo have a long history of antagonism, with Kigali repeatedly sending troops across its border to tackle Rwandan rebels based in Congo.
Congo has since last month closed its border with Rwanda in Goma each night, citing security concerns following a wave of shootings and grenade attacks in the city.
Congo’s government is battling a rebellion with among others, the M23 insurgents, mostly Congolese Tutsis, many of them army mutineers, who take their name from a March 2009 peace deal that ended a previous rebellion in North Kivu, which the rebels say has been broken.
Like the larger rebellion in eastern Congo from 2004 to 2009, the current one also has its origins in ethnic and political wounds dating back to Rwanda’s 1994 genocide.
Rwanda has been accused of backing armed insurgents in Congo for the past two decades to crack down on Rwandan rebels operating out of Congo’s eastern hills.
The U.N. Security Council’s Group of Experts said in a confidential report in October that Rwanda and Uganda supported the M23 rebels in their six-month fight against Congolese government troops in North Kivu province.
Rwanda has repeatedly denied any involvement in the M23 rebellion, saying it is an internal Congolese issue, while regional efforts to find an end to the crisis, which has forced half a million people from their homes, have so far failed.
Uganda also strongly denies backing M23 and has said it will withdraw from peacekeeping operations in Africa, including Somalia, unless the United Nations amends its report.