Rwanda Accused of Deploying Surface-to-Air Missile System in Eastern DRC

In a recent United Nations report, concerns have been raised regarding the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where the Rwandan Defense Forces (RDF) are allegedly involved in supporting the M23 rebel group in eastern DRC. According to the report, accessed by AFP on February 12, 2024, RDF elements are believed to have launched at least one surface-to-air missile from a WZ551 armored vehicle, equipped with a missile system, targeting but missing a United Nations observation drone. This incident reportedly took place in an area controlled by the M23, highlighting the escalation of conventional forces in the conflict in the eastern DRC.

The UN document details the event, noting that the missile, presumed to be from the RDF, was fired from an armored vehicle identified by external French military intelligence as Rwandan. The report includes two aerial photographs showing a six-wheeled armored vehicle with a radar and missile launch system on its roof, approximately 70 km north of Goma, in the Rutshuru territory, which was the location of the drone targeted by the missile.

This incident underscores the complexity of the conflict in the eastern part of the DRC, where the MONUSCO (United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo) has observed the use of advanced weaponry. The report indicates that no armed groups in the region are known to possess the training or resources necessary to operate and maintain such a mobile air defense missile system, pointing to an escalation of conventional forces in the conflict.

Furthermore, the document mentions that both the M23 and the Rwandan army have used various types of weaponry against flying objects, including anti-aircraft guns and MANPADS (Man-Portable Air-Defense Systems). The introduction of these anti-air systems by the M23 and RDF poses a high-risk threat to all aircraft operated by the DRC government and MONUSCO in the region.

The situation has been further complicated by public statements from M23 representatives. In late January, a video circulated on a pro-M23 YouTube channel featured Willy Ngoma, a spokesperson for the M23, threatening MONUSCO with retaliation and accusing it of providing information to the rebels’ enemies by using drones to inform the Congolese army of their activities. Ngoma also displayed what he claimed to be debris from a FARDC CH-4 drone allegedly shot down by an M23 fighter.

The M23’s aggressive stance was highlighted on January 17, when the group announced that two of its commanders had been killed in an attack believed to be conducted by a drone in Kitshanga, about 50 km north of Goma. Additionally, on February 9, 2024, Lawrence Kanyuka, another M23 spokesperson, claimed on the social media platform X that the M23 had downed another FARDC drone, further escalating tensions in the region.