1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Congo: Is Rwanda behind the attacks on displaced people?

May 7, 2024

Rwanda has denied involvement in the deadly shelling of IDP camps in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Meanwhile, the US has called for an investigation.

Refugees in a camp around Goma after a bomb blast killed at least 15 people
Fighting between the Congolese army and M23 rebels has moved closer to Goma in recent months, prompting thousands to seek refugeImage: Moses Sawasawa/AP Photo/picture alliance

The military governor of the Democratic Republic of Congo's (DRC) North Kivu province, Peter Cirimwami, said that 15 people died and 35 others were seriously wounded after explosions at four camps for displaced people (IDPs) last week. 

The eastern city of Goma has been struggling to deal with an influx of IDPs from the territories of Masisi, Rutshuru and Nyiragongo in North Kivu, where the M23 militia control swathes of land.

A spokesman for the Congolese armed forces in North Kivu accused M23 fighters of firing on the camps in Lac Vert and Mugunga on the outskirts of Goma on Friday morning — claims that were rejected by M23.

What happened last week in the IDP camps?

According to witnesses to Friday's shellings, government forces positioned near the camps had been bombarding the rebels on hills further west since early morning, and, according to one activist, "the M23 retaliated by throwing bombs indiscriminately."

Kambale Kiyoma, a displaced Congolese, described what happened when the IDP camp where he lives with his family came under attack.

"We woke up in the morning to find that shells were being fired from here at M23 positions. After a while, the M23 retaliated," Kambale said, adding that several shells fell at camps in the area. 

Kambale said that he feels abandoned and wants the government to restore peace.

People disembarking from an aid truck
Congo has the highest number of internally displaced people in AfricaImage: Aubin Mukoni/AFP/Getty Images

Safi Kasembe, another IDP, told the Agence France-Presse (AFP) news agency that the Congolese government has installed artillery weaponry in the camp — which puts their lives in danger.

"I'm here because of the war. We fled our villages, and now we've taken refuge in this camp for displaced persons, but unfortunately, even here, we're hit by bombs from rebel positions."

There are also artilleries installed in the camp, and it's these exchanges of fire that put us in danger and cause the death of some of us. The situation is unbearable, and we are suffering enormously."

Bombing victims remembered

Meanwhile, at a ceremony to commemorate the victims of the bombing, members of several citizens' movements denounced the upsurge in violence in eastern DRC and called for justice for the people killed in last week's IDP camp shellings.

"The people who fled the war, the people who today find themselves in displaced person camps, where they should be finding refuge and safety," said Christophe Muyisa, a member of Filimbi, a Congolese political movement that seeks increased youth participation. "Unfortunately, the bombs pursue them right into their places of refuge." 

"They don't need aid or assistance. They need peace and security to return to their homes. So, all the aid today, which is a mockery, a hypocrisy on the part of the international community, we ask the government not to give a damn," Muyisa added.

Josue Wallay, an activist from Fight for Change, a civil society movement that advocates for social justice, said that eastern Congo had become uninhabitable.

"The people who have fled their villages and have sought refuge are unfortunately dying of hunger and being inflicted with yet another atrocious death, bombed and killed," Wallay said.

DR Congo conflict: Who are the main players?

US demands accountability

The United States has condemned the attack and called on Rwanda to punish forces behind it, not backing down from charges that Kigali is meddling in its neighbor's affairs.

Asked if the United States stood by its claim, US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said, "We absolutely do."

"The government of Rwanda must investigate this heinous act and hold all those responsible accountable. And we have made that clear to them." 

Rwanda denies involvement

Rwandan government spokesperson Yolande Makolo retorted that the US accusation was "ridiculous," writing on social media platform X that Rwanda had a "professional army" that would "never attack" a camp for displaced people. Look to the lawless FDLR and Wazalendo supported by the FARDC for this kind of atrocity." 

The tweet refers to the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a Hutu group founded by Hutu officials who fled Rwanda after orchestrating the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, while Wazalendo is a Christian sect.

In a separate statement on Sunday, Rwanda said that the attempt by the US Department of State to immediately and without any investigation place blame on Rwanda for the loss of lives in the refugee camps was unjustified. 

"Rwanda will not shoulder responsibility for the bombing of the IDP camps around Goma or the security and governance failures of the government of the DRC," the statement said.

What is M23 fighting for?

The rebel group has long been accused of wanting to seize control Congo's mineral resources, which include major deposits of copper, gold and diamonds.

Congo is also home to the world's largest reserves of cobalt, a key component in batteries for electric cars and mobile phones.

Tensions flared in March 2022 when M23, after a decade of relative calm, attacked Congolese army positions near the border between Uganda and Rwanda, causing locals to flee for their safety.

The United States has long said there was evidence to support charges by Congo that Rwanda is backing the M23 rebels.

Washington has sought to mediate between the two countries, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken meeting Rwandan President Paul Kagame in January on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland — and voicing hope that all parties would take the necessary diplomatic steps to resolve the situation.  

Edited by: Keith Walker