DR Congo accuses Rwanda of airport ‘drone attack’ in restive east

Fighting has flared in recent days between M23 rebels and Congolese government forces near strategic city of Goma.

Goma airport, DRC
A general view shows planes at the airport in Goma, eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo [File:Baz Ratner/Reuters]

The Democratic Republic of the Congo has accused Rwanda of carrying out a drone attack that damaged a civilian aircraft at the airport in the strategic eastern city of Goma, the capital of North Kivu province.

Fighting has flared in recent days around the town of Sake, 20km (12 miles) from Goma, between M23 rebels – which Kinshasa says are backed by Kigali – and Congolese government forces.

“On the night of Friday to Saturday, at 2-o-clock in the morning local time, there was a drone attack by the Rwandan army,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Guillaume Ndjike Kaito, army spokesperson for North Kivu province.

“It had obviously come from the Rwandan territory, violating the territorial integrity of the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” he added in a video broadcast by the governorate.

DRC Goma map Al Jazeera

The drones “targeted aircraft of DRC armed forces”. However, army aircraft “were not hit”, he said, but “a civilian aircraft was hit and damaged”.

The Rwandan government did not immediately respond to the allegations.

An AFP correspondent and Goma residents reported hearing two loud explosions around the time of the blast. A security source told AFP about “two bombs” on Saturday and said experts were on site to check where they had been fired from.

Despite the bomb reports, national and international traffic was normal, sources at the airport said.

‘Escalating violence’

Alain Uaykani, reporting for Al Jazeera from Goma on Saturday, said that if the drone attack targeted military craft, as the army has said, it shows that M23 rebels are capable of more advanced attacks than the Congolese government may have expected.

The DRC, the United Nations and Western countries have said Rwanda is supporting the rebels in a bid to control vast mineral resources, an allegation Kigali has denied.

The rebels have conquered vast swaths of North Kivu in the last two years.

According to a confidential UN document seen by the AFP earlier this week, the Rwandan army is using sophisticated weapons, such as surface-to-air missiles, to support M23.

A “suspected Rwandan Defence Force mobile surface-to-air missile” was fired at a UN observation drone last Wednesday without hitting it, the report said.

The UN Security Council voiced concern this week at “escalating violence” in eastern DRC, and condemned the M23 offensive near Goma.

Dozens of soldiers and civilians have reportedly been killed or wounded in the fighting over the last 10 days.

‘A new front’

The latest fighting has pushed tens of thousands of civilians to flee neighbouring towns towards Goma, which stands between Lake Kivu and the Rwandan border and is practically cut off from the country’s interior.

“The security situation remains very volatile in the Sake area where for several days government forces with their allies are trying to remove the M23 rebels on several mountains that they occupied around this strategic city at the gate of Goma,” Uaykani reported from Goma.

“While the government coalition is trying to block the advance of rebels in this part of Sake, since this morning security sources reported that the rebels are also fighting with the DRC army in the village of Kashuga, in the territory of Rutshuru, at the limit of territory with Walikale,” Uaykani reported.

He said fighting in this part of the country is significant for the rebels as it has opened “a new front” for Walikale, which had never before been affected by the years-long conflict.

“It’s also very significant because it’s in this territory that several international companies are based with larger mining activities in the region. For the past week, several outlying neighbourhoods of Goma have already been targeted by bombs, fired by the M23 according to the authorities,” he added.

With multiple diplomatic efforts failing to quell the violence in DRC, the continent’s leaders are expected to discuss the conflict at the 37th African Union summit taking place in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa this weekend.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies