The Congolese army alleged the Rwandan army was backing an active rebellion in the eastern DRC, which Kigali denied on Tuesday. The move comes after months of growing suspicion and decades of mistrust.
On Monday evening, General Sylvain Ekenge, spokesman for the military governor of North Kivu province, accused the Rwanda Defence Forces (RDF) of supporting rebel group named the M23 (for "March 23 Movement"), which he said had "carried out incursions and attacked FARDC (Congolese Armed Forces) positions in Tchanzu and Runyoni, in the Rutshuru territory".
The Congolese Minister of Communication and government spokesman, Patrick Muyaya, who appeared on French broadcaster TV5 Monde, used the conditional tense but nevertheless made the point: "It is time to put an end to this form of hypocrisy or this form of complicity between the M23 and the government of Rwanda," he said, "**because we want to look at Rwanda as a partner country, as we look at Uganda". **In view of the "assertions of the army" of the DRC, he added, "my colleague of Foreign Affairs will invite (Tuesday) the ambassador of Rwanda, so that he comes to give us explanations".
Alleged soldiers arrested
"We categorically refute the baseless accusations" of the Congolese army, replied Tuesday in a statement the governor of the Rwandan province of the West, François Habitegeko. The Rwandan army "is in no way involved in warlike activities" in the DRC, he added.
To back up his accusations, Congolese General Ekenge said two Rwandan soldiers had been arrested during Monday's attacks and gave their identities: Warrant Officer Jean-Pierre Habyarimana and Private John Uwajeneza Muhindi, alias Zaje, of the 65th Battalion of the 402nd RDF Brigade.
The two alleged soldiers, dressed in civilian clothes, were standing near him and were shown on Congolese television. Again, Mr Habitegeko "disputed these false allegations". According to him, the names of these two men had been mentioned by the Congolese side during a meeting on 25 February in Kigali of a joint intelligence mechanism.
These two men were arrested "more than a month ago", the Rwandan governor said, adding that the Rwandan army did not have any soldiers with the names mentioned.
In a video message, M23 spokesman Willy Ngoma also said that the movement was "Congolese" and did not receive "any help, either from near or far, from any neighbouring country".
Ongoing fighting between the Congolese army and the M23, which began on Monday, continued on Tuesday in the region.
The UN Mission in the DRC, Monusco, announced that it had lost contact with one of its helicopters on a reconnaissance mission in the area. "The causes of this disappearance are not yet known, searches are underway," the mission added.
Also known as the "Congolese Revolutionary Army", the M23 stems from a former Congolese Tutsi rebellion once supported by Rwanda and Uganda, countries bordering this province which has been plagued by violence from numerous armed groups for over 25 years.
Defeated in 2013 by the Congolese army, the M23 has been in the news again since November, when it was accused of attacking several military positions. The movement blames the Kinshasa authorities for not respecting commitments made for the demobilisation and reintegration of its fighters.
Since the massive arrival in the DRC of Rwandan Hutus accused of massacring Tutsis during the 1994 genocide, Rwanda has been regularly accused by Kinshasa of incursions into Congo and of supporting armed groups in the east.
Relations have eased with the accession to power in early 2019 of Félix Tshisekedi, who has met several times with his Rwandan counterpart Paul Kagame. But the renewed activity of the M23 has revived suspicion.