Artillery price

Artillery fire by Rwandan-backed M23 militia raises tensions in Congolese home of endangered gorillas

Members of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s armed forces, the FARDC, fire rockets at members of the M23 rebel group on August 16 in North Kivu province, near Congo’s borders with Rwanda and Uganda.Photograph by Goran Tomasevic/The Globe and Mail

A world-renowned park in eastern Congo, one of the last homes of the endangered mountain gorilla, now faces a new threat: deadly attacks by a Rwandan-backed militia that has wreaked havoc. devastation throughout the region.

An artillery attack on Tuesday, reportedly from positions held by the M23 militia, killed and injured an unknown number of civilians in Virunga National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is home to a vast population of wildlife and two of the most active volcanoes in Africa. The attack also damaged a hydroelectric plant and forced the evacuation of staff from the nearby park.

The Virunga are at the heart of an expanding war zone in the Democratic Republic of Congo where the M23 has killed dozens of people and driven tens of thousands from their homes, triggering an exodus of refugees and deepening instability in a region. of central Africa which is already one of the most unstable places in the world.

There is mounting evidence, including from UN experts, that Rwanda is supporting the M23 insurgency by sending troops and heavy weapons across the border into eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

A report leaked by UN experts contains seven pages of detailed documentation on Rwandan military support for M23 activities, including evidence from aerial photos, videos, drone footage, seized equipment, arrested fighters and dozens of interviews with witnesses.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, during a visit to the DRC and Rwanda last week, said the United States was “very concerned about credible reports that Rwanda provided support to M23”.

Analysts say Rwandan military interference in eastern DRC threatens to prolong instability in one of Africa’s largest and most strategically important countries, source of vast mineral wealth and site of frequent wars which have caused millions of deaths since the 1990s.

Rwandan support for the M23 insurgency has infuriated the Congolese government. “Our country is the victim of a cowardly and barbaric aggression by its neighbor Rwanda,” DRC President Felix Tshisekedi said on Wednesday at a summit of southern African leaders.

Human Rights Watch, in a report released last month, said M23 fighters have deliberately killed at least 30 civilians in areas under their control since mid-June. In a single massacre, on June 21 in the village of Ruvumu, M23 fighters shot and killed at least 20 civilians after accusing them of informing the Congolese army of militia positions, according to the report.

It also describes “indiscriminate bombardments” by M23 forces which resulted in further civilian casualties. He said the insurgents are using the same “brutal tactics” they used a decade ago when they captured Goma, the largest city in eastern DRC. These tactics in 2012 included war crimes, but their leaders were never prosecuted because Rwanda and Uganda protected them, Human Rights Watch said.

People displaced by fighting with the M23 walk on the road between the Congolese towns of Rutshuru and Bunagana. Further south is Goma, a town taken by the M23 ten years ago.

FARDC soldiers arrest suspects on the Rutshuru-Bunagana road and fire an anti-aircraft gun at the M23. Congolese forces last defeated the M23 in 2013, and analysts say its recent revival is part of a strategy by Rwanda to destabilize its largest neighboring state.


The M23, also known as the March 23 Movement, grew out of a former armed group in eastern Congo that signed a peace treaty on March 23, 2009. It later complained that the government n had breached the treaty.

After taking Goma and causing havoc in the region, the M23 was finally defeated in 2013. When it was revived last October, much of its activity was in and around Virunga National Park, which occupies a strip of key territory near the Rwandan border.

Last November, around 100 heavily armed men – believed to be M23 fighters – attacked a patrol post and killed a Virunga park ranger, park officials said. Rangers are fighting to protect the endangered mountain gorilla, of which there are only around 1,000 left in the world, a third of which live in the dense high-altitude forests of the volcanic slopes of Virunga.

In their leaked report last month, marked “confidential update”, the UN experts said the M23 had “significantly expanded the area under its control” with increasingly strong and frequent attacks.

The UN report states that the M23 was able to “sustain intense combat on several fronts at once and for several weeks, indicating a higher degree of organization, improved tactics, active recruitment, an increase troops and a substantial resupply of military equipment”.

Rwandan military involvement was so blatant that in one incident documented by UN experts, 14 separate eyewitnesses identified a contingent of 900 to 1,000 Rwandan soldiers who crossed the border into the DRC by at least four entry points on May 24 and held positions for several days.

Stephanie Wolters, Congo expert at the South African Institute of International Affairs, said the resurgence of M23 is linked to the geopolitics of the region. “Rwanda wants to continue to assert itself as the most important player in the region,” she told The Globe and Mail in an interview.

“The main problems relate to Rwanda’s lack of respect for Congolese borders and its persistent desire to have a strong military presence in eastern DRC. Rwanda is again interfering to destabilize eastern DRC, and this is a pattern we have seen time and time again.

Last month, a powerful US senator announced that he would block all US security aid to Rwanda because of its support for M23. Robert Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Rwanda was fomenting “rebellion and violence” by using a “proxy militia” to kill civilians and UN peacekeepers.

But the international community must exert stronger pressure on Rwandan President Paul Kagame, Ms Wolters said. “As long as Kagame feels there is no cost for him to be involved in eastern Congo, he will continue to do so,” she said.

“Do we want to keep Congo in a constant cycle of instability? It is a country with six million internally displaced people. Every humanitarian crisis takes resources away from any type of development effort in Congo and the wider region.

People on the Rutshuru-Bunagana road continue their march to safety.

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