Kinshasa – A Democratic Republic of Congo soldier was killed and two Rwandan policemen were wounded on Friday in an exchange of fire on their country’s tense border that also left civilians injured, security sources said.
The incident happened at a frontier post in the eastern Congolese city of Goma, hiking tensions between two countries with a decades-long history of fraught ties.
“A Congolese soldier rushed forward, opening fire in the direction of the Rwandan border,” a Congolese policeman who was present told AFP.
“A Rwandan soldier opened fire and he died on the spot. There was then an exchange of fire between us and the Rwandan security forces.
“Some of the civilians who were waiting to cross the border were wounded.”
Rwanda’s army confirmed the incident, in North Kivu province, saying on Twitter that an “unidentified Congolese soldier fired on passers-by who were crossing the border”.
“He wounded two (Rwandan) policemen… (and) was shot in return,” it said.
The Congolese soldier, who was bearing an AK-47 assault rifle, was shot 25 metres (27 yards) inside Rwandan territory, the army said earlier.
Rwandan Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta said he was treating the events as “just an incident” and that an investigation would be conducted after he held talks with his Congolese counterpart.
“We need to act together to de-escalate the whole situation,” he told France 24, saying the violence happened amid “hate speech” against Rwandans and Congolese Tutsis.
Observers from a multinational organisation called the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) briefly conferred with Congolese and Rwandan officials at the border.
Congolese police held back around a hundred demonstrators who tried to head to the border post, chanting slogans against Rwandan President Paul Kagame.
In the early afternoon, the Congolese soldier’s body was repatriated to DRC, according to an AFP correspondent. An applauding crowd received it, with some chanting that he was a “hero”.
The mayor of Goma, police colonel Francois Kabeya, said the shooting was “an incident like so many others that often happen at the border. The killed (Congolese) soldier was visibly drunk”.
In neighbouring South Kivu province, the governor announced the closure of local border crossings to Rwanda from 3:00 pm (1300 GMT) after several hundred people took part in an anti-Rwandan march.
Relations between the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda have a long history of strain.
A key moment was in 1994, when Rwandan Hutus accused of slaughtering Tutsis during the Rwanda genocide poured into DRC. They set up camps on the border, setting the stage for conflict with Rwanda’s post-genocide leaders.
Tensions have flared again in recent weeks over a rebel movement called the M23.
The DRC accuses Rwanda of supporting, funding and arming the group, a charge that the government in Kigali repeatedly denies.
Both countries have accused each other of carrying out cross-border shelling.
The M23 is a primarily Congolese Tutsi militia that is one of scores of armed groups in eastern DRC.
The group leapt to global prominence in 2012 when it briefly captured Goma, an important commercial hub of about a million people and the capital of North Kivu province.
It was forced out shortly afterward in a joint offensive by United Nations troops and the Congolese army.
After lying dormant for years, the rebels resumed fighting last November. They accused the government of failing to honour a 2009 agreement under which the army was to incorporate its fighters.
Clashes intensified in March, causing thousands of people to flee.
On Monday, M23 fighters captured the strategic town of Bunagana on the Congolese-Ugandan border.
Two days later, an anti-Rwanda rally in Goma gathering several thousand people boiled over into looting. Bare-chested men ransacked shops and searched cars they suspected to be transporting Rwandans.
Military commanders of a seven-nation bloc, the East African Community, will meet on Sunday to discuss how to implement plans agreed in April for a regional force in the DRC’s troubled east.
“The East African Regional Force shall be deployed to the Ituri, North Kivu and South Kivu provinces immediately to stabilise the zone and enforce peace,” Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said on Wednesday.