Kinshasa gives Vincent Karenga 48 hours to leave the country in retaliation for Kigali's alleged support for rebels fighting in east of Democratic Republic of Congo.

Fighting since 2021, M23 rebels have captured swathes of territory in North Kivu, including the key town of Bunagana on the Ugandan border.
Fighting since 2021, M23 rebels have captured swathes of territory in North Kivu, including the key town of Bunagana on the Ugandan border. (TRTWorld)

The authorities in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), who accuse Rwanda of supporting the M23 rebels active in the east of the country, have expelled the country's ambassador, government spokesperson Patrick Muyaya has said.

Vincent Karenga was given 48 hours to leave the country in retaliation for Rwanda's alleged support of rebels fighting in the DRC's eastern provinces, Muyaya said.

The announcement on Saturday came after a government meeting to assess the security situation in DRC's east, where rebel fighters seized more territory, prompting a "troop alert level" from UN peacekeepers.

The M23 rebel fighters had seized control of Kiwanju and Rutshuru-centre along the strategic RN2 highway in the eastern province of North Kivu, local officials and witnesses told the AFP news agency.

Rebels had also been seen at Rugari, just 30 kilometres down the RN2 from provincial capital Goma, which it links with the north and Uganda.

Four peacekeepers were wounded by mortar fire and shooting at Kiwanja, the mission announced.

"Kiwanja and Rutshuru-centre are in M23 hands," said civil society representative Jacques Niyonzima.

"The rebels have held two meetings and told local people to go about their work and those displaced to return to their villages, saying security was now guaranteed," he said.

At Kiwanja, "in our area we recorded three deaths, a man, a woman and her child, killed by shells that landed on houses", said local resident Eric Muhindo.

A general hospital official in Rutshuru added: "There were several wounded in Kiwanja after a small amount of resistance".

"Calm has returned. People are moving about and shops are opening," the official said, asking not to be named.

In the capital Kinshasa, the presidency said head of state Felix Tshisekedi was holding a "meeting on national security in the light of the change in the security situation in the east of the country".

READ MORE: Probe for UN concludes Rwanda, M23 rebels 'jointly attacked' DRC

Hostile acts

The MONUSCO mission condemned "the hostile acts of M23", and called for an immediate halt to the fighting.

The mission said on Twitter it was providing "air support, intelligence and equipment" as well as medical assistance.

The peacekeepers said they were "mobilised in support" of DRC's army after residents reported at least 10 people dead since Sunday and dozens more injured near RN2.

The MONUSCO said it had set up an "operations coordination centre" with the army and was carrying out reconnaissance and surveillance flights, but did not provide further details about the alert level.

M23, a mostly Congolese Tutsi group, resumed fighting in late 2021 after lying dormant for years, accusing the government of having failed to honour an agreement over the demobilisation of its fighters.

It has since captured swathes of territory in North Kivu, including the key town of Bunagana on the Ugandan border in June.

The front line between DRC's troops and M23 rebels had been calm in recent weeks until last week, when clashes erupted again.

Last Sunday, M23 fighters captured the village of Ntamugenga in the Rutshuru area. It lies four kilometres from the RN2 where the clashes spread on Thursday.

READ MORE: Clashes erupt as M23 rebels reject DRC-Rwanda truce deal

Tension with Rwanda 

The UN humanitarian affairs office in the DRC said this week around 34,500 people had fled the Rutshuru region.

The group's resurgence has destabilised regional relations in central Africa, with the DRC accusing its smaller neighbour Rwanda of backing the militia.

Rwanda denies the charges and counters that DRC works with a notorious Hutu rebel movement involved in the 1994 genocide of Tutsis, the Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), which Kinshasa also denies.

A report by independent UN experts seen by AFP in August found that Kigali had provided direct support to the M23.

And this week a US representative to the United Nations spoke of Rwandan defence forces providing assistance to the M23.

M23 first leapt to prominence in 2012 when it briefly captured Goma before a joint DRC-UN offensive drove it out.

The militia is one of scores of armed groups that roam eastern DRC, many of them a legacy of two regional wars that flared late last century.

Relations between Kigali and Kinshasa appeared to have improved when Tshisekedi took over as president in DRC in 2019 and held several meetings with Rwandan President Paul Kagame.

But the revival of M23 put an end to that rapprochement.

READ MORE: Support for armed groups, militias in DRC must 'cease': US

Source: AFP