Goma – The army in the Democratic Republic of Congo confirmed on Sunday it was holding two Rwandan soldiers, a day after Kigali accused it of backing the rebels who initially kidnapped them.
On Saturday, Rwanda alleged the two soldiers had been abducted by a Hutu rebel group active in the eastern DRC.
But the DRC army said the soldiers had been trespassing on its soil and had been detained by locals.
Each government regularly accuses the other of backing armed rebel groups it is seeking to quash.
DRC Brigadier General Sylvain Ekenge said the arrest of the two soldiers was “proof” the Rwandan army operated on its neighbour’s territory.
“Based on their own accounts, the soldiers entered Congolese territory on Wednesday May 25 to attack the Congolese military camp at Rumangabo, more than 20km (12.5 miles) from the Rwandan border,” he said.
“After they were routed by the DRC army in Rumangabo, they got lost and were subsequently captured by locals,” said Ekenge, who is the military spokesman for North Kivu province, where Rumangabo is located.
He said Rwanda had been “fighting a proxy war … on Congolese soil for decades”.
The Rwandan army appealed to the authorities in Kinshasa to work for the release of its soldiers, who it said were abducted while on patrol by a Hutu rebel group called the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and taken across the border into the DRC.
Rumangabo is located between Goma, the capital of Nord Kivu province, and Rutshuru further north.
On Sunday the Congolese army said it had reopened the strategic main road linking Rutshuru to Goma, five days after traffic was disrupted by fighting between DRC forces and another rebel group called M23.
Kinshasa says M23 – a primarily Congolese Tutsi group – receives support from Rwanda. Kigali has denied involvement.
Relations between the DRC and Rwanda have been strained since the mass arrival in the eastern DRC of Rwandan Hutus accused of slaughtering Tutsis during the 1994 Rwanda genocide.
Relations began to thaw after DRC President Felix Tshisekedi took office in 2019 but the recent resurgence of M23 violence has reignited tensions which have only been exacerbated by the incident involving the Rwandan soldiers.
The African Union on Sunday called for calm after the latest escalation.
“I am gravely concerned about the rise in tension between Rwanda and the DRC,” tweeted Senegalese President Macky Sall, who currently chairs the AU.
“I appeal to the two countries for calm and for dialogue to find a peaceful resolution to the crisis.”