US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in Rwanda, the last stop on his three-nation tour of Africa where he has articulated Washington's new strategy for engaging with sub-Saharan African nations as “equal partners.”
Blinken comes to Rwanda at a particularly difficult time for Africa's Great Lakes region, with the small central African nation at odds with vast neighbour Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) over allegations that both governments support rebels opposed to each other.
In a meeting on Thursday with Rwandan President Paul Kagame, Blinken is expected to discuss efforts to ease the tensions.
Rwanda is rejecting a new report by United Nations experts saying they have “solid evidence” that members of Rwanda’s armed forces are conducting operations in DRC in support of the M23 rebel group.
Blinken has said reports of Rwanda's support for M23 appeared “credible.” After meeting with authorities in DRC on Tuesday, he said the US will support African-led efforts to end the fighting.
Rwandan authorities in turn accuse DRC of giving refuge to ethnic Hutu fighters who played roles in 1994 genocide against the Tutsis.
History of tensions
There have long been tensions between the countries. In the late 1990s, Rwanda twice sent its forces deep into DRC, joining forces with rebel leader Laurent Kabila to depose the country’s longtime dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.
Both Rwanda and Congo deny the charges of backing rebel groups, and Rwandan authorities have rejected the latest report by UN experts as a move “to distract from real issues.”
Rwanda also asserts that its security needs cannot be met while armed fugitives from the genocide continue to operate from inside Congolese territory.
A meeting between Kagame and Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi in Angola on July 6 produced a statement calling for a return to normal diplomatic relations, a cessation of hostilities and the “immediate and unconditional withdrawal” of the M23 from its positions in eastern Congo.
But M23, which comprises mostly ethnic Tutsis from Congo, continues to hold its positions near the border with Uganda, keeping the spotlight on Rwanda.
The State Department said Blinken in Rwanda also will raise democracy and human rights concerns, including transnational repression and the limited space for the opposition.