DR Congo soldier released after Rwanda ‘kidnapping’
Kinshasa: A Congolese soldier who was captured by Rwandan forces at the weekend was set free on Tuesday, both countries said, ending a row that risked heightening tensions between the neighbours.
Rwanda: Experts Investigate Border Violation By DRC SoldierBy James Munyaneza, 17 September 2013
A group of regional military experts tasked to monitor security along DRC's frontier with its eastern neighbours, including Rwanda, yesterday launched investigations into the circumstances under which an armed Congolese military officer entered Rwanda illegally.
Senior Non-Commissioned Officer Sergeant Major Kusakana Munanga Andre, service number (matricule): 1-72-88-93460-89, was arrested on Sunday in the border town of Rubavu involved in suspicious activities, the defence ministry said in a statement.
The military experts were dispatched by the Expanded Joint Verification Mechanism (EJVM), a military monitoring team comprised of 24 officers from 12 member states of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), at Rwanda's request, according to Brig. Gen. Joseph Nzabamwita, the Defence and Military spokesperson.
The inquiry team that visited Rubavu where the Congolese soldier was arrested was composed of 13 senior military officers from the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville), DRC, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Zambia.
The New Times also understands that the team also included a Canadian major from the UN peacekeeping mission in the Congo (Monusco) which was incorporated within the EJVM during a recent ICGLR emergency Heads of State and Government summit in the Ugandan capital Kampala.
The inquiry team was led by EJVM deputy coordinator Col. Leon Mahoungou (Congo-Brazzaville).
The officers interrogated Sgt. Kusakana Munanga and spoke to several people on either side of the border.
"We were able to meet with all the parties concerned, including the soldier himself," Mahoungou told The New Times last evening.
At the time he was arrested by Rwandan security organs, at around 1:20p.m on Sunday, the FARDC officer was heavily armed and dressed in full battle fatigue, the Defence ministry said in a statement released Sunday.
He was arrested at Mbuga Ngali village, the same area where FARDC (the Congolese army) deliberately fired a rocket that killed a woman and injured her two-month old son last month, according to the statement.
The shell that killed Vestine Mukagasana on August 29 was one of the 38 rockets and bombs Rwanda says were deliberately fired into its territory (all in Rubavu District) by FARDC between July 15 and August 29, 2013.
Kigali says the latest incident is a continuation of a pattern of provocation by the Congolese army to which the Rwandan government sternly warned it was poised to respond to following the death of Mukagasana.
Asked about the particular arms the Congolese officer was in possession of at the time of his arrest on Sunday, Brig Gen Nzabamwita said Munanga was armed with an AK-47 with 75 rounds of ammunition.
He said the FARDC officer entered Rwanda through Petite Barriere.
"We are now working on our report which we will duly submit to our boss," Col. Mahoungou said in reference to Uganda's Chief of Defence Forces Gen. Katumba Wamala, the chairperson of ICGLR military chiefs.
In Kigali, authorities have linked the Congolese soldier's illegal entry into Rwanda to another incident on November 3, 2012 when two FARDC and FDLR (the DRC-based Rwandan militia blamed for the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi) fighters "conducted combined armed reconnaissance at Busasamana, Rubavu District".
Then, Cpl Nzaza Nyabigoro, a suspected FDLR fighter "embedded in 391 Reconnaissance Battalion of FARDC", was killed. "His remains were handed over to the FARDC 8 Military Region Commander, Col Evariste Somo Kakule."
That incident, Gen. Nzabamwita says, preceded the FDLR attack on Rwandan territory on November 27, 2012.
However, in Kinshasa, Congolese political and military leaders deny Sgt Major Kusakana Munanga was arrested from the Rwandan territory, claiming he was instead picked by the Rwandan security from the neutral area between the two countries' borders.
"He had not crossed the border, but he was found in a neutral zone when the Rwandan soldiers kidnapped him," Congolese army spokesperson Col. Olivier Hamuli was quoted by agencies as saying.
But Gen. Nzabamwita laughed off DRC's denials, saying Rwanda was committed to using existing regional frameworks, such as EJVM, to address such security issues as opposed to engaging in allegations and counter-allegations.
The Defence and Military spokesperson however said Rwanda hoped the latest incident would be solved amicably.
"For us we are forward looking, we will continue to use regional frameworks and hope that this case will be concluded in the best way possible," Brig. Gen. Nzabamwita.
Congo soldier released after 2 days in Rwanda
GOMA, Congo (AP) — A Congolese soldier says he's happy to be back after being held for two days in neighboring Rwanda, in a case that heightened already mounting tensions between the two countries.
Sgt. Major Munanga Kafakana embraced the vice governor of Congo's North Kivu province on Tuesday in front of reporters following his release.
Congolese army spokesman Col. Olivier Hamuli said that Kafakana was detained Sunday while trying to visit family in the eastern Congo city of Goma.
Rwandan officials, though, said Kafakana had crossed into Rwandan territory, but Congolese authorities insisted he had not.
Congo's army has engaged in several rounds of heavy fighting in the border region this year with the M23 rebel group, which observers accuse Rwanda of backing despite consistent denials from Rwanda's government.
Congo accuses Rwanda of 'kidnapping' soldier
KINSHASA, Congo (AP) — Congolese officials accused Rwandan soldiers of detaining a sergeant from Congo's army near the countries' shared border Sunday, a move they described as a "provocation."
The incident appeared to ratchet up tension in the border region, which was the sight of heavy fighting late last month between the Congolese army and a rebel group allegedly backed by Rwanda.
Sgt. Munanga Kafakana was detained Sunday while trying to visit family in the eastern Congo city of Goma, army spokesman Col. Olivier Hamuli said. Rwandan officials said Kafakana had crossed into Rwandan territory, but Hamuli insisted he had not.
"He had not crossed the border, but he was found in a neutral zone when the Rwandan soldiers kidnapped him," Hamuli said. "We are trying to calm the tension here at the border, because the population that alerted us to this arrest wants to go look for him on the other side of the border."
The arrest was confirmed by Rwandan military spokesman Brig. Gen. Joseph Nzabamwita, who said Kafakana was arrested inside Rwanda not far from where a shell allegedly fired by Congo's army during the fighting in late August killed a Rwandan woman and seriously wounded her 2-month-old baby.
A Rwandan immigration official in the border town of Gisenyi, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to brief the media, said Kafakana crossed into Rwanda at around 1 p.m. but was unable to produce documentation. The official said Kafakana had a machine gun and armor.
Congo's army has engaged in several rounds of heavy fighting in the border region this year with the M23 rebel group, which observers accuse Rwanda of backing despite consistent denials from Rwanda's government. As the most recent bout of fighting escalated last month, a convoy of military vehicles was seen leaving the Rwandan capital, Kigali, for the Congolese border, heightening fears the two nations, which have gone to war twice before, might be heading for another confrontation.
Congolese government spokesman Lambert Mende said Sunday that the arrest of Kafakana was "pure provocation."
"It's clear that we cannot tolerate the Rwandan army kidnapping a Congolese soldier found in the neutral zone," Mende said. "We demand that he be set free immediately and without condition."
Sheik Hassan Barame, mayor of the Rwandan border town of Rubavu, said dozens of Rwandans had been stranded in Congo after a border post was closed in response to the sergeant's arrest.
"We have learnt that dozens of Rwandans are stranded across the border and some have been detained by Congolese authorities as they went about their private affairs," Barame said.
Hamuli, the Congolese military spokesman, said there had been no official decision to close any posts along the border.
Associated Press writer Edmund Kagire contributed to this report from Kigali, Rwanda.