Thousands joined anti-Rwanda protests in the east Congolese city of Goma on Monday, denouncing Rwanda’s alleged support of M23 rebels as Kinshasa recalled its interim acting ambassador from Kigali in a further souring of relations.
Rwanda denies Congo’s long-standing accusations that it backs M23, a Tutsi-led insurgency that has staged attacks on Congolese forces in eastern provinces near the Rwandan border since 2012.
Tensions escalated in October after the group launched a new offensive in North-Kivu province and captured the strategic town of Kiwanja on Saturday, prompting Congolese authorities to expel the Rwandan ambassador.
Congo’s foreign ministry went further on Monday, recalling the interim charge d’affaires from Kigali and ordering its newly-appointed ambassador to Rwanda not to register his credentials, it said in a statement.
Reached for comment on Monday, Rwanda’s government spokeswoman Yolande Makolo sent Reuters a statement from the previous day which said that Congo’s expulsion of the Rwandan envoy was an effort to distract from its own security failures.
In August, United Nations experts said they had found solid evidence Rwanda had been interfering militarily in eastern Congo. Rwanda’s government has disputed the U.N. findings.
In the east, protesters marched and rode motorbikes down the streets of Goma on Monday, waving branches in the air. Some tried to cross into Rwanda at the Grande Barriere border post, where police fired tear gas to stop them, a Reuters reporter said.
The crowds threw stones in response and also targeted the empty offices of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, an inter-governmental group that includes Congo and Rwanda.
There, they tore down posters and burnt a photo of Rwandan President Paul Kagame.
“We have suffered a lot because of the war against the M23 and we know that if there is a country that supports them, it’s Rwanda,” said protester Masango Murefe Moise.
Goma, the capital of North-Kivu, has been effectively cut off from the upper half of the province since the capture of Kiwanja.
At least four civilians have been killed and more than 35,000 people forced to flee their homes since fighting resumed on Oct. 20.
The recent M23 attacks broke months of relative calm since the group’s last major offensive in late May – the most serious since a 2012-2013 insurrection that seized vast swathes of territory before fighters were chased out by Congolese and United Nations forces into Uganda and Rwanda.