Rwanda accused on Tuesday (Jan. 23) a fighter plane from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) of violating its airspace, which Kinshasa denied, the latest episode in the heated tensions between the two countries since a rebel offensive in eastern DRC.
On Tuesday "at 17:03, a Sukhoi-25 from the Democratic Republic of Congo violated for the third time the Rwandan airspace" in the district of Rubavu, opposite the city of Goma, said Yolande Makolo, spokeswoman for the Rwandan government, in a statement sent to AFP, adding that "defensive measures have been taken", without giving more details. "Rwanda asks the DRC to stop this aggression," she concluded.
In a statement issued in the evening in Kinshasa by the Ministry of Communication, the DRC government denied that the plane had flown over Rwandan airspace and condemned "the attack" on the plane by the Rwandan army, "a deliberate act of aggression which," according to the government, "amounts to an act of war. Rwanda had already accused Congolese fighter jets of violating its airspace in November and December.
A loud bang was heard Tuesday afternoon in Goma, in eastern DRC, by AFP journalists, followed by two shots and the passing of a Congolese army Sukhoi plane. One shot seems to have hit the Congolese plane, which was able to land on the runway of Goma airport, according to witnesses. The shooting caused panic in Goma.
"The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo condemns and strongly denounces the attack against one of its Sukhoi-25 planes by the Rwandan army," said Kinshasa.
"This fighter plane was attacked while it was landing on the runway of Goma airport," the Congolese government said in its statement. "The Rwandan fire was directed at a Congolese aircraft flying inside Congolese territory. It did not fly over Rwandan airspace. The plane landed without major material damage," the text added.
Kinshasa "considers this umpteenth attack by Rwanda as a deliberate act of aggression which is tantamount to an act of war with the sole aim of sabotaging the efforts underway (...) for the restoration of peace" in the east of the DRC, the statement said.
The government of the DRC "reserves the legitimate right to defend its national territory and will not allow itself to be attacked," it concluded.
Despite announcements of a cease-fire and withdrawal of troops, fighting persists in eastern DRC between the Congolese army and the M23 rebels (for "March 23 Movement").
A summit meeting in Luanda on November 23 decided on a cease-fire starting November 25, followed two days later by the withdrawal of the M23 from areas conquered over the past several months in North Kivu province.
This predominantly Tutsi rebellion, defeated in 2013, took up arms again at the end of 2021. Supported and partly equipped by the Rwandan army, its fighters have seized large swathes of territory north of Goma.
Kigali denies supporting the M23, accusing the Congolese army of collusion with a Rwandan Hutu rebellion that has been operating in the eastern DRC since the 1994 Tutsi genocide in Rwanda.
Diplomatic initiatives have been launched in an attempt to resolve the crisis in eastern DRC, where an armed conflict has erupted.