What you need to know:
- Kigali confirmed the shooting in a terse statement, saying the Congolese Sukhoi-25 violated their airspace for the third time in as many months.
Tensions between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have escalated after Rwanda Defence Forces shot and inflicted serious damage to a Congolese fighter jet yesterday evening.
Kigali confirmed the shooting in a terse statement, saying the Congolese Sukhoi-25 violated their airspace for the third time in as many months.
“Today (Tuesday) at 5:30pm, a Sukhoi-25 from the DR Congo violated Rwanda airspace for the third time. Defensive measures were taken. Rwanda asked the DRC to stop this aggression,” a statement by the Rwanda government read in part.
The incident has already escalated tensions between Congolese and Rwandan near the shared border.
The DRC has been flying fighter jets along the border to fend off M23 rebels. The Congolese government accuses Rwanda of backing M23 rebels, who have seized several border points and are at the gate of Goma City. Rwanda denies the allegations, Rwanda too accuses DRC of supporting FDRL (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda) a Rwanda rebel group.
The Sukhoi-25 fighter jet, which was flying low, was captured by several people on camera being hit by a missile as it was flying over Goma City in the eastern DRC.
Video clips of the stricken jet were posted by several witnesses. The jet was able to land at Goma airport where a fire was put out by two fire tenders, according to a Congolese journalist Fiston Mahamba Wa Biondi.
By press time Kinshasa hadn’t issued a statement about the incident. In photographs circulated on social media, the Congolese soldiers were seen inspecting the damaged plane yesterday evening.
The DRC has only two fighter jets and the damage suffered by one curtails their aerial superiority against the rebels and its rival neighbour, Rwanda.
Not the first time
This isn’t the first time Rwanda is accusing DRC jets of violating their airspace. In November 2022, they alleged that a Sukhoi-25 fighter jet from the DRC violated its airspace during the day before briefly touching down at Rubavu Airport in Western Province, Rwanda. The DRC government later confirmed that their plane entered into Rwandan territory and issued an apology, saying it was a mistake.
In December, Rwanda President Paul Kagame issued a red line to his counterpart in DRC that if Rwanda’s territory is ever violated, he would act.
“I told him (President Félix Tshisekedi) that is enough invitation. I told the president of Congo [that] while initially I was seeking an invitation to work with them to deal with the problem, actually firing artillery across the border into our territory is a sufficient invitation. That statement still stands if there is ever any [violation of the territorial integrity of Rwanda,” President Kagame said.
The latest incident comes at the time when fighting between M23 rebels and Congolese forces has resumed after the two parties observed a ceasefire in accordance with the Nairobi, Kenya, and Luanda, Angola, processes intended to solve violence in the eastern DRC.
The Nairobi and Luanda processes deadline for the rebels to withdraw from captured territory expired on January 15, 2022. M23 rebels had agreed to withdraw from captured territory and indeed handed over several towns to the East African Community Regional Force led by Kenya.
Last week, Mr Tshisekedi said that M23 rebels had not withdrawn but repositioned their troops.
On Tuesday last week, President Tshisekedi’s premier Christophe Lutundula also said they were ready to use military means to solve the insecurity in the eastern DRC, which Rwandan authorities termed as a declaration of war on Rwanda. Over the weekend, fighting between M23 rebels and Congolese forces was intense and M23 rebels accused the DRC of using drones and mercenaries from Eastern Europe in the battles.
Congolese forces were said to have recaptured Kishishe Township from M23 rebels yesterday and they are advancing into territories controlled by the rebels.