Two Rwandan soldiers captured by the Democratic Republic of Congo’s army last month and accused by Congolese authorities of supporting a rebel offensive have been released, Rwanda’s military said on Saturday.
Congo said the two soldiers were detained inside its territory, which it cited as evidence Rwanda is backing the ongoing offensive by M23 rebels. On Thursday, it escalated its accusations, blaming Rwanda for sending 500 special forces in disguise into eastern Congo.
Rwanda has denied any involvement in the M23 attacks and said the two soldiers were kidnapped by Congolese forces inside Rwanda. The escalating dispute has resurfaced old animosities between the neighbours. Rwanda invaded eastern Congo twice in the 1990s. On several occasions since then, Congo and U.N. experts have accused it of backing militias in eastern Congo to advance its interests — charges Kigali denies.
The two soldiers were released following mediation by Angolan President João Lourenço, the Rwanda Defence Force (RDF) said in a statement. “The RDF is pleased to announce that the two soldiers are now safely back in Rwanda,” it said.
Congo’s government spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The M23 has over the past month been waging its most sustained offensive in Congo’s eastern borderlands since 2012-2013, when it captured vast swathes of territory before being pushed back by Congolese and U.N. forces.
The group’s name refers to the March 23 date of a 2009 accord that ended a revolt by a predecessor militia in eastern Congo. The M23 accused the authorities of not living up to promises to fully integrate the militia’s members into the army and government. Rwanda denies playing any role in the M23’s recent attacks, but has echoed M23 charges that Congo is collaborating with the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), an armed group run by ethnic Hutus who fled Rwanda after taking part in the 1994 genocide.
Congo and Rwanda accused each other on Friday of firing rockets across their shared border, including a strike that Congo’s army said killed two Congolese children.