Twenty Rwandans are among a group of 38 suspected members of the Congolese rebel group M23 who are due to go on trial in Kinshasa, a military intelligence official said Tuesday.
“There are 38 of them in total, including 20 Rwandans and 18 Congolese,” Jean-Paul Mfinda told reporters in the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The 38 face charges of “taking part in the M23 insurrectional movement”, an insurgency in the eastern DR Congo by former rebels who had been integrated into the regular armed forces before mutinying again in April.
The M23 rebellion swiftly conquered large swathes of the mineral-rich region and briefly took over the main hub of Goma before withdrawing following a diplomatic initiative to pull the region back from the brink of all-out war.
Kinshasa accuses its neighbour Rwanda of arming the M23 and sending some of its own troops to fight, an allegation Kigali has consistently denied.
Several reports by a UN panel of experts on DR Congo also point to heavy involvement by Kigali, even naming the Rwandan defence minister as the man who topped the M23 chain of command.
“As for the 20 (suspects), there is no doubt, they have given the addresses of their relatives” in Rwanda, Mfinda said as the group of 38 were presented to the press in Kinshasa.
“They are demanding their return to Rwanda and we are saying no…. They must account for their actions, they have violated our territory, taken part in the conflict. We must know who sent them,” the colonel said.
Mfinda did not produce any documentation to back up his claims on the nationality of the suspects. Rwanda has not yet reacted to the announcement.
Government spokesman Lambert Mende had announced the suspects’ capture earlier Tuesday, saying they were nabbed in Kibumba and around Goma during fighting last month.
Kinshasa claimed before the November 20 fall of Goma that “51 bodies wearing Rwandan army uniforms were picked up” in the Kibumba zone, where the fighting began right by the Rwandan border.
Kigali rejected this as “an old technique of easy propaganda to try to drag Rwanda into discord”.